Last Friday, the small group of Canadian ministers, travelling South-East Asia with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, were in Da Nang, Vietnam, in a room away from where the leaders of 11 countries were trying to get agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
The Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe and Justin Trudeau were having a bilateral meeting before the two of them headed back to the main meeting room.
Media reports said the bilateral session was “tense” with neither prime minister shaking hands until a photographer asked them to do so.
By all accounts, the meeting went longer than scheduled. When it ended, Prime Minister Abe returned, alone, to the waiting leaders where he told them that the meeting was cancelled.
Prime Minister Trudeau, already late for his next appointment – with Facebook – didn’t go back to the main meeting.
Later that Friday, headlines appeared in Australia saying “Trudeau Walks Out Of TPP meeting”. Given the twelve hour time difference between Da Nang and Ottawa, in the eastern Canadian time zone, the story didn’t break in the Canadian media until the middle of Friday afternoon leading into Remembrance Day ceremonies and the virtual shutdown of services and government offices.
Early last week, Prime Minister Trudeau was on record as saying Canada wouldn’t be pressured into committing to an agreement “at all costs” and that it would have to address the best interests of Canadians.
A senior Canadian government official had been quoted as saying Japan was one of the countries applying pressure on Canada to come to an agreement on an updated TPP.
And as late as last Thursday, Trudeau’s Liberal government flatly denied “a deal in principle” had been reached on the TPP.
But a little more than 24-hours later came the news that an agreement had been reached, which included Canada.
So what happened? In my view there were several factors which lead to Justin Trudeau appearing to be the man who “sabotaged” the TPP.
The fact that the Canadian Prime Minister did not return to the main meeting of leaders was mis-read by some, seemingly the Australian delegation. And those reports by Australian ABC News included quotes from Australia’s Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo.
The story about the ugly Canadian and his ungracious behaviour – failing to show up to a meeting where the leaders of 10 other countries expected to sign an agreement-in-principle of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Version 2.0 – is rejected by senior Liberal aides as mostly malarkey.
Sources from other TPP countries were telling reporters the Canadians “screwed” everyone, while Canadian officials said other countries got carried away before an agreement was ready and that the meeting of 11 leaders was cancelled after Mr. Trudeau’s meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ran late.
Anyway, a deal was announced a day later.
But no matter who tells the tale, there are still real differences on the substance. And they remain even after an agreement-in-principle was signed on Friday.
Louis Cooper is an Australian-born veteran television executive who lives in Canada