WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Mexican President Felipe Calderon, set to leave office this year, pressed on Monday for a swift decision on his country’s bid to join free-trade talks with the United States and eight other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
Mexico “would like to join forces as soon as possible to the TPP, or the Trans-Pacific Partnership, because we know that Mexicans can contribute to a quick and successful conclusion of this process,” Calderon said at a news conference with President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Mexico, Canada and Japan all have expressed interest in November in joining U.S-led talks on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership pact.
Washington says the agreement would tear down trade barriers and toughen trade rules in the world’s fastest-growing region.
Participants now include the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei. Each has varying degrees of concern that more entrants could bog down or derail talks that are set to end this year.
U.S. support would remove the biggest obstacle to Mexico joining and burnish Calderon’s legacy as he nears the end of his single six-year term.
Obama, at the White House news conference, said the United States was consulting with other TPP members on how Mexico, Canada and Japan “can meet the high standards of this trade agreement, which could be a real model for the world.”
He noted that all countries, including the United States, could have to expose politically sensitive domestic industries to more foreign competition under the pact.
“That’s inherent in the process, because each of our countries have their own idiosyncrasies, certain industries that have in the past been protected, certain practices that may be unique to that country, but end up creating disadvantages for businesses from other countries,” Obama said.
Calderon is expected to return to Washington this month to resume making the case for Mexico quickly joining the talks.
A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers last week told U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk they believe Mexico is “ready to meet the high standards of the TPP and provide substantial economic benefits to the United States in the process.”
Harper did not use the press conference in the White House Rose Garden to express Canada’s desire for quick entry into the TPP negotiations.
Harper also sidestepped a question about whether Canada was willing to agree to reform its agricultural supply management programs as a “pre-condition” for joining the talks.
Canada will strive “to promote and defend Canada’s interests, not just across the economy but in individual sectors as well,” Harper said.
Canadian dairy and poultry farmers are fearful that their longtime government programs could be targeted for elimination in the TPP talks.
Reporting By Doug Palmer; Editing by Xavier Briand