BEIJING, China – Prime Minister Stephen Harper and 11 other world leaders said Monday they’re inching ever closer to an agreement on the proposed Asia-Pacific trade deal as a crucial year-end deadline approaches.
On the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit, Harper sat down with U.S. President Barack Obama and the leaders of the 10 other countries negotiating an agreement on the TransPacific Partnership.
The leaders said in a statement following the high-level meeting, held under tight security in an auditorium in the U.S. embassy in Beijing, that the progress they’ve made in recent months “sets the stage to bring these landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations to conclusion.”
The statement added they are “intensively engaging to complete ambitious and balanced packages to open our markets to one another.”
There have been dim hopes for a deal this year, largely due to a stalemate between the U.S. and Japan over whether the Japanese will open their borders to farm exports.
Obama, nonetheless, played the role of cheerleader in remarks at the beginning of the TPP meeting, urging his fellow leaders to spur on an agreement.
“During the past few weeks, our teams have made good progress in resolving several outstanding issues regarding a potential agreement,” he said as Harper listened intently from across the room.
“Today is an opportunity at the political level for us to break some of the remaining log jams.”
The U.S. has been pressuring Canada to open up its protected dairy and poultry sectors.
Harper and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met Sunday on the eve of the APEC summit. Japan issued a joint statement following their chat, saying the two leaders agreed on the “need to confirm the political determination to settle a deal.”
The TPP joint statement a day later suggested there’s been some success towards that goal.
“With the end coming into focus, we have instructed our ministers and negotiators to make concluding this agreement a top priority so that our businesses, workers, farmers, and consumers can start to reap the real and substantial benefits of the … agreement as soon as possible.”
Harper also made a brief appearance at the APEC summit, posing for the so-called group photo with other world leaders. The smiling prime minister was situated behind Russian President Vladimir Putin for the photo.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the two men spoke. Canada has vehemently condemned Putin’s actions in Ukraine, and the two countries have swapped retaliatory sanctions for months.
Harper was in China for four days in efforts to build closer business ties to China, a country that’s been excluded from TPP negotiations.
The prime minister announced commercial and currency deals worth as much as $2.5 billion between the Chinese and Canada, and met with China’s leadership, including President Xi Jinping.
“Next year marks the 45th anniversary of China-Canada diplomatic relations,” Li said as he greeted Harper to the Great Hall of the People in the Chinese capital. “Our relationship will come to a new starting point.”
Nonetheless, the story that dominated the news in smoggy Beijing on Monday was not the Harper visit, but another big energy deal signed between the Chinese and Russia.
The two countries inked agreements on Sunday to boost their energy co-operation, including a memorandum of understanding to develop a second route to supply China with Russian natural gas for the next 30 years.
Harper headed home to Ottawa late Monday to attend Remembrance Day ceremonies on Parliament Hill. On Wednesday, he’s turning around and heading back to the Asia-Pacific region for meetings in New Zealand and to attend the G20 summit in Australia.