Thursday evening, ministers from 12 powerful countries including the US, Canada, and Japan, gathered in a casino in New Zealand to sign the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a massive international trade deal with implications for everything from dairy prices to internet censorship.
The signing is the latest procedural hurdle the agreement will go through on the long road to ratification, when it will be voted on by the governments involved and, if passed, go into effect. Negotiations finished up in October, and the agreement has now gone through the months-long "legal scrub," when lawyers scoured the text to clean up its language, as well as translations.
Now, with the deal officially signed, a two-year ratification period begins. In this period, every signing country will attempt to get their laws in line with the international agreement's requirements and vote on whether to accept it or not.
"I think the perspective that Canada had was that not signing at this point in time would be a significant statement, because it would be rejecting the agreement," said Michael Geist, University of Ottawa law professor and political blogger. "I think what this does is keep Canada's options open."
Criticisms of the TPP have been wide-ranging. For example, critics have noted that provisions in the agreement would make it easier for corporations to sue governments over lost profits, encourage website blocking over copyright, criminalize tinkering and hacking, continue degrading the environment, and force public corporations to act like private businesses. For some signatories, accepting the deal would mean significantly overhauling their laws.
Signing is just one more (albeit largely symbolic) procedural hoop for TPP-signing countries to jump through, Geist said, and it really doesn't mean much on its own. Most countries, Canada included, are likely to wait and see if the US ratifies the deal or not before doing it themselves, Geist added. Although President Barack Obama has expressed his support of the deal, US ratification is not a sure thing.
"There's opposition in the senate, and opposition among some presidential candidates," Geist said. "Assuming it moves into 2017, there's a new Congress, and a new president, and there's even further uncertainty as to whether or not the agreement gets implemented."
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that the meeting took place in Australia, when it in fact took place in New Zealand. Motherboard sincerely regrets the error.