Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as leaders take their place for an official photograph at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam, Nov. 10, 2017. Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/File
By Staurt Thomson
Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has accused Justin Trudeau of “humiliating” other world leaders during negotiations for a revamped Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal in 2017.
In a just published autobiography, Turnbull said he personally felt let down by Trudeau and upbraided him for embarrassing other world leaders when he failed to show up for a critical meeting.
Turnbull said he was scheduled, by coincidence, to meet with Trudeau after the no-show and the Canadian prime minister seemed more interesting in talking about his socks than the previous meeting.
“Justin always wore perfectly tailored suits that fitted like a glove, bright socks and on this occasion two-tone shoes,” wrote Turnbull. “‘What do you think of the socks?’ he asked, crossing his legs as he sat down. ‘Justin,’ I said, ‘we’re not here to talk about your socks’.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to students at the Ton Duc Thang University in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Nov. 9, 2017. Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/File
Turnbull said Canada’s indecision on the trade deal also made Trudeau look “flaky.”
The meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in November 2017 was supposed to include the 11 countries that would eventually agree to a resurrected trade deal after U.S. President Donald Trump pulled his country out of the agreement in early 2017.
The new deal was informally called TPP-11, but Turnbull wrote that the other countries were so annoyed that they were ready to announce a TPP-10 agreement that excluded Canada.
It was generally assumed among the other leaders that Trudeau was putting the brakes on the new trade deal because he was concerned about offending Trump, Turnbull wrote in A Bigger Picture released Monday. Turnbull agreed with that, but said it was the wrong way to deal with the U.S. president.
“The best way to deal with Donald was to be up-front, frank and stand your ground; there was no other way to win his respect,” Turnbull wrote.
Canada eventually agreed to a new deal, called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP-11, after coming to side agreements with several other countries.
Canada’s behaviour put a heavy wrench into the process in 2017, though, Turnbull writes.
At the time, Canadian officials blamed the no-show on a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe running late, rather than any deliberate attempt to derail the negotiations. Turnbull’s account tells a different story.
After discussions with each country’s trade ministers, the leaders were under the impression that all that was left was to shake hands and smile for the cameras. For Vietnam, which was hosting the conference, the new deal was set to be a major diplomatic coup.
The leaders noticed that Abe and Trudeau were late for the meeting and some murmuring broke out. Abe soon came striding into the meeting looking “very flustered,” according to Turnbull.
When Turnbull asked him what was going on, Abe said, “Justin won’t sign. He’s pulling out.”
I was extremely disappointed with Justin
Asked if Trudeau was trying to scuttle the deal, Abe said he thought so.
“I was extremely disappointed with Justin and felt really bad for Shinzo Abe. He’d put so much into the TPP-11 and this was a very public humiliation. Likewise for Prime Minister (Nguyen Xuan) Phuc of Vietnam. He had dozens of cameras waiting to record the historic moment, and then it hadn’t happened,” wrote Turnbull.
Even more annoying for the other leaders was they felt they had “bent over backwards” for Canada during the negotiations, allowing for the clunky new name requested by the Canadian delegation, among other things.
Turnbull also felt that Trudeau had personally let him down. After initially believing that Trudeau had been unfairly cast as a “lightweight” by his critics, simply because of his youth and looks, Turnbull had come to believe that Trudeau was “more thoughtful than some of his reviews suggested.”
Now, he doubted himself. “This last minute backflip looked flaky. Had I misjudged him?” Turnbull wrote.
It was then that Trudeau met with Turnbull and mentioned his colourful socks.
“What, Justin, is going on? You have just humiliated our friend Shinzo, who happens to be the leader of the third largest national economy in the world,” wrote Turnbull. “And, if that wasn’t enough, you have humiliated our host, Prime Minister Phuc.”
Justin, we’re not here to talk about your socks
Turnbull says that Trudeau was non-committal in the meeting and Turnbull began to feel like a “grumpy old man” scolding the younger leader. He warned Trudeau that he may have done a lot of damage to Canada’s standing with Japan.
The APEC conference soon devolved into a series of confused meetings between world leaders trying to figure out what Canada was up to.
Enrique Peña Nieto, who was then Mexican president, confided to Turnbull that he believed Trump was at the heart of it and that he was pessimistic about the Canadian prime minister changing his mind again.
Nieto told Turnbull that Trudeau had “lacked the strength to say ‘no’ months ago and now lacked the strength to say ‘yes’.”
In the following weeks, Canada raised issues around its music and television industry but, according to Turnbull, “it was still largely unclear what those concerns were.” In December, Japanese sources were floating the idea of pushing ahead without Canada.
On Jan. 18, 2018, Turnbull and Abe met to hammer out a solution. “We have to keep the train moving, we can’t stop. If Canada won’t come, make it a TPP-10,” said Turnbull.
A Canadian trade representative was due the next day and Abe hoped that Canada “might have a sense of guilt about their behaviour.” A Japanese negotiator presented the Canadians with two draft press releases about the deal, one excluding Canada and one including Canada and said “right now, we are pretty indifferent as to which one we issue.”
Less than a week later, Trudeau told the World Economic Forum in Davos that Canada was back in TPP-11, although he made sure to call it the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.