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Most common challenges faced during FTA negotiations

In our previous blog, we talked about how long it took for Canada to negotiate and arrive at free trade agreements. This gave you a better understanding of how the Canada-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement can potentially progress.

While there are different challenges to negotiating a Canada- ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, from a process point of view, CABC Advocacy Chair Geoff Donald highlights the four most common issues.

Difference in types of agreements – Canada and ASEAN are both highly active in negotiating and using free trade agreements but the types of agreements that they have signed are different. Chapters on issues such as labour, environment, transparency are found in all the FTAs that Canada has signed since 1999. These issues are not found in any ASEAN free trade agreements nor are more modern issues such as gender, environment, or rules regarding state-owned enterprises. It is unclear if ASEAN is willing to incorporate any of these issues into a free trade agreement nor is it likely that Canada will sign a trade agreement that is significantly narrower in scope than its more recent trade agreements.

Timelines – The sheer length of the negotiating process is a challenge to coming to a successful agreement. A quick look at trade negotiations that either Canada or ASEAN have started but have never finished the list is larger than one would hope. This is going to be a long multi-year process. Issues such as a lack of a champion, lack of bandwidth, changes in governments, and other issues (both local and global) may also lengthen the negotiation.

Changes in Government – With 11 different countries trying to negotiate an agreement, it is almost certain that there will be a change in government by one of the signing parties. While this can be expected in multilateral trade negotiations, it does raise the risk that a new government could be fundamentally opposed to a Canada-ASEAN FTA thus halting negotiations or scrapping them entirely.

Lack of Bandwidth – Negotiating a free trade agreement is a significant undertaking for any government and for its negotiators. This undertaking can be even more difficult if a country is negotiating multiple free trade agreements at the same time. There are only so many experienced negotiators or subject matter experts in a country while elected officials and Ministers only have so much time that they must prioritise. If the Canada-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement is not viewed as a priority, then personnel, resources, and time can be shifted to other agreements that are seen as more important to a country’s strategic goals.

So, what does all this mean and how can you contribute to the process?

The start of the negotiations is just a start and this is going to be a long multi-year process. The negotiations themselves will be very process-oriented and include stakeholders and other participants.

For those individuals, groups, and companies that are supportive of the free trade agreement between Canada and ASEAN, it is important that you remain engaged in the process and make sure your voice is heard.


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