Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations and the Game of Poker

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There has been a lot of rhetoric lately from all political parties, pundits, publishers and people all across our great country providing their opinion on whether or not Canada needs to stay at the table and successfully conclude a deal within the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations.

We have heard that the TPP negotiations “are the biggest game in town,” that the “stakes could not be higher,” that Canada “needs to stay at the table,” and conclude an agreement with our other 11 TPP trading partners.

Comments like these remind me of the same sort of comments you hear when you watch a TV episode of the World Poker Tour (WPT). In many ways the WPT and TPP are similar. You have a number of very determined people at the table, each trying to read the minds of their opponents and guess what their cards held might be and whether or not, as the betting and stakes get higher, there is a bluff or two involved.

So what are the stakes for Canadian agriculture? Consider for a moment that the TPP countries represent about 40 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), buy approximately 65 per cent of Canada’s total agri-food exports of $50 billion annually, and that over 90 per cent of Canada’s farmers and 40 per cent of our food processing sector is dependent on export trade. I’d say those are pretty high stakes especially IF Canada is told to step away from the table because we just don’t think the timing is right to continue playing and stay in the game because the chips bet are a lot more than we are prepared to ante up.

For the barley industry and its BCC members, the TPP is a big deal and one that we need. For Canadian barley farmers, over 50 per cent of their barley production is currently exported to TPP countries either as barley, malt, or as barley-fed beef and pork. Japan for instance is our 2nd largest malt export market, our 2nd largest pork market and our 4th largest beef market. To be told that Canada has to walk away from the table would be devastating for our entire barley value chain industry and all agri-food exporters.

Recent history has shown that when Canada took longer than anticipated to conclude a trade deal with South Korea, our trading competitors who had concluded earlier trade deals had a significant competitive advantage. As a result, Canada’s meat industry exports declined significantly as well as the lost opportunity to feed those animals with Canadian barley. Let’s not have history repeat itself.

Right now Canada is still at the final table, all the other players have shown their cards and declared “all in,” the dealer is ready to deal the last river card but is waiting for Canada to decide if we’re “all in also,” and show our cards like everyone else.

So in many ways the TPP negotiations and poker have a lot in common. But, in poker there is only one winner. In the TPP however, once the final hand has been dealt, all countries will come out winners for their respective trade interests.

Canada…the time is now to declare, “we’re all in.”

Phil de Kemp
Barley Council of Canada
Executive Director

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