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Are Conservatives stonewalling trade committee with the Pacific Alliance?

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Earlier this week, we issued an Action Alert asking Conservatives on the trade committee to stop blocking requests from the opposition to hear from Canada's CETA negotiator on the state-of-play of the Canada-EU trade talks. Now opposition members on committee are asking why they are studying Canada's possible participation in an ambiguous and possibly redundant Pacific Alliance trading bloc made up of Chile, Colombia, Peru and Mexico -- all countries with which Canada has free trade agreements and three of which are part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.

On March 18, trade committee heard from Chile's ambassador to Canada Roberto Ibarra about Canadian participation in the Pacific Alliance -- a grouping of Latin American countries that lean to the right politically and which do very little trade with each other. The Alliance is the newest of several economic integration projects in the region, including Mercosur, Unasur and ALBA, only it seems to have the least to do with integration, being more focused on increasing exports to Asia.

The Alliance also brings together staunchly neoliberal (or "like-minded," according to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird) governments when a UN Development Programme report this month praises the way non-neoliberal, pro-poor policies have significantly raised living standards across Latin America. Canada was granted observer status to the Alliance in November 2012, "but the committee will examine taking the relationship to the next level," reports Embassy Magazine this week.

Ambassador Ibarra eluded to certain mysterious conditions Canada would have to agree to if it wanted to become a full member of the Alliance. When pressed what they might be, he said, "I cannot give recipes here, but I think Canada can do much better in our region." NDP trade critic Don Davies asked about the overlap between the Alliance and the TPP negotiations, according to Embassy.

"Both talks are explicitly aimed at creating a Pacific-based trade bloc-Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile are already at that negotiating table, presumably discussing the very things that would be the subject of the Pacific Alliance," he said. "Is that not an inefficient duplication of resources?"

Davies told Embassy he felt the Alliance was of minor importance when "DFAIT's trade resources… are severely stretched." Wayne Easter, liberal trade critic, also wondered if the Pacific Alliance discussion at trade committee was "basically busy work" designed to avoid looking into why the EU trade talks are delayed, or concerns about Canada's trade deficit.

Even Ed Holder, a Conservative on committee, wondered where the benefit was: "I guess where I'm coming from in this is that we already have relationships with all of these countries," he said, reported in Ipolitics. "We don't need to do this, but maybe we do. And what I'm looking for is that argument for Canada."

For more on Canada's possible role in the Pacific Alliance, see Council of Canadians Political Director Brent Patterson's blog posts here and here. To ask the trade committee to get back to business on the Canada-EU trade deal, click here.

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