Canada is AWOL, America at home playing with its guns

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau failed to show up. Photo: AP
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau failed to show up. Photo: AP

The no-show of Canada's Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, to a critical meeting on the Trans Pacific Partnership might have shocked diplomats and regional leaders, but it was indicative of something far more significant than poor diplomacy, says former foreign minister and NSW premier Bob Carr.

Earlier during the APEC summit in Vietnam, the United States President, Donald Trump, had given a fiery speech complaining of unfair trade practices and actively renouncing broad trade treaties like the TPP.

"From this day forward, we will compete on a fair and equal basis," he said. "We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of any more. I am always going to put America first the same way that I expect all of you in this room to put your countries first."

Mr Trudeau's failure to attend the trade meeting, at which 11 nations were to discuss a TPP without the US, hours later reflected a new world disorder brought about by America's abandonment of its leadership role, said Mr Carr.

"America is saying to the world that it is tired of the being the global leader. It is saying it wants to stay at home and play with its guns."

Without a liberal, confident, internationalist America "that often got things right" its friends and allies are left scrambling to maintain the conventions and agreements that have marked international affairs in the postwar era, said Mr Carr.

Just 18 months ago the US was confidently finalising negotiations over the TPP, which it viewed as the diplomatic and economic substance of its so-called pivot to Asia.

But then Donald Trump ran on an "America first" platform, and Hillary Clinton, who had personally championed the treaty as Barack Obama's secretary of state, was forced to abandon it before her shock loss to Mr Trump.

Or as Mr Carr put it: "Trump set fire to the TPP and made Hillary dance around the flames."

He said Australia already had free trade agreements with many of the key nations currently in talks over what is now known as TPP II, so in practical terms the agreement would not have a critical domestic economic impact. But as a mechanism and signifier of America's role in the world, the abandonment of the TPP was hugely significant, he said.

According to a Canadian report, Mr Trudeau failed to attend the meeting because a meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, ran long, so he skipped the event and went straight into another scheduled appointment with Facebook.

Mr Abe, meanwhile, attended the TPP and told his shocked counterparts that Mr Trudeau would not be appearing.

This was a "disappointing development", the Australian Trade Minister, Steven Ciobo, observed, according to an ABC report. An official who spoke off the record was blunter. "The Canadians screwed everybody," he reportedly said.

With the planned ratification abandoned, the Japanese delegation - as chair - issued a statement saying that core elements had been agreed to but that more work needed to be done.

Canada represents the second-largest economy among the remaining TPP nations, and its negotiations over the deal have been complicated by the Trump administration's determination to renegotiate its other key trade treaty, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

This does not explain Mr Trudeau's no-show though, said Mr Carr.

"Ninety per cent of diplomacy is just showing up. Canada has puzzled its friends."

This story Canada is AWOL, America at home playing with its guns first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.