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Canada will join 10 other nations in talks aimed at creating an Asia Pacific free trade agreement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced on Tuesday as part of a bid to reduce reliance on the U.S. market in favor of fast-growing emerging economies.
"Opening new markets and creating new business opportunities leads to jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for all Canadians," said Prime Minister Harper in a statement about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
"A TPP agreement will enhance trade in the Asia-Pacific region and will provide greater economic opportunity for Canadians and Canadian businesses."
The deal will likely increase pressure to scrap a farm support program that other countries see as protectionist. Canada limits domestic production of dairy, poultry and eggs to match demand, and high tariffs are imposed on imports to protect farmers, a scheme considered unfair by competitors.
Many of Canada's farmers consider supply essential to their survival since it allows them to compete against much larger U.S. competitors. As well, defending supply management has always been federal government policy.
Keen to avoid losing votes in the province of Quebec, home to a big dairy industry, the Conservatives have promised to keep the program intact and exempt it from any eventual TPP negotiations.
"The position of the Canadian government is that it will defend supply management, and we expect them to do just that," said Therese Beaulieu, spokeswoman for the Dairy Farmers of Canada, a national lobby and promotional group for Canada's 12,965 dairy farms. "Canada has been able to conclude a number of trade agreements before, and we've kept supply management. We have confidence that they can do it again."
On Monday, Mexico also joined the TPP talks, while doubts remained over Japan's seven-month-old bid to join the negotiations. The other countries now negotiating a trade pact include Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.