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Maddie Di MuccioBefore Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent trip to Asia, the Liberal government promised to promote trade, economic opportunities and investment in Canada. But the trip didn’t quite go as planned.

At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) gathering, world leaders hoped to revive the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal after the United States left the agreement earlier this year.

Although Canada previously supported the agreement, Trudeau inexplicably balked at the last moment, failing to show at the meeting where other leaders waited. He drew scathing criticism at home and abroad.

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Eventually, the prime minister explained his reservations about the TPP agreement. He didn’t approve the strengthening of protections for intellectual property; he wanted greater clarity on cultural exemptions; and he didn’t agree with the stipulations that would weaken Canada’s agricultural supply management system.

The concerns over intellectual property surprised many. For years, Canada has touted the idea of transforming our economy into one based on knowledge. Without laws protecting the patents and trademarks of Canadian innovation, the money invested into our research and development is at risk. We need strong international agreements that prevent foreign companies from pirating technology or creating knockoffs.

The government had an opportunity to participate in a global effort to protect Canadian research and innovation, but it failed to act.

Canadians should demand a full explanation from our prime minister.

Canadians also need know why the government was concerned about cultural exemptions. The TPP would essentially preserve the status quo for Canadian content regulations for television and radio, but make it difficult to make these rules more expansive.

Supply management seems to always be a problem for Canada in international trade agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Canada-European Union’s Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

It’s no surprise that the system is under fire at TPP talks. Best described as Soviet-style central control over milk supplies, this relic has no place in modern international trade agreements.

Even though TPP is estimated to increase imported dairy products by just three percent, the government is digging its heels in to purportedly protect Canadian farmers while increasing food costs to Canadian households.

Eventually, the supply management system will come to an end because it’s an anachronism. The government’s vigorous defence of the system doesn’t make a lot of sense.

After the fallout over balking at the TPP deal, Trudeau flew to the Philippines as a guest at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) conference. ASEAN is a 10-nation economic community that promotes trade and international co-operation. Member nations are a diverse group, including democratic, communist and an absolute monarchist government. One can surmise why the ASEAN traditionally doesn’t discuss human rights abuses.

But the prime minister did just that, remarking about Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and the related extra-judicial killings.

While Trudeau is correct to raise Canada’s concerns about human rights, his remarks about the brutal Filipino crackdown on illicit drug trafficking prompted Duterte to lash out. “It is a personal and official insult,” Duterte declared, despite Trudeau claiming to the media that his meeting with Duterte was a “receptive” and “cordial exchange.”

Knowing when and where to criticize another nation should be left to the most experienced diplomats. Trudeau ventured into an internal matter that other leaders, including U.S. President Donald Trump, stayed clear of. Speaking to reporters afterward, the Philippine president said, “I only answer to the Filipino. I will not answer to any other bull—-, especially foreigners. Lay off.”

Trudeau should have kept his condemnation of Duterte behind closed doors. But Trudeau’s entire term has been about feel-good optics and headlines that lack substance.

If the goal of Trudeau’s Asian trip was to improve trade for Canada, he failed. He needs to show better judgment on the world stage. Skipping a meeting to avoid an agreement that would have a substantial effect on Canadians shows he wasn’t properly prepared. It also damaged his reputation among other leaders.

And he needs to learn there’s a time and a place for discussing human rights and a time and place for trade.

Maddie Di Muccio is a former town councillor in Newmarket, Ont., and former columnist with the Toronto Sun. 

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