By Geoff Zochodne
Trade partners may have to pry Canada’s supply management system from its cold, dead hands – and Ontario could be okay with that.
Negotiations are continuing on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade agreement covering a market of more than 800 million consumers, Canada included. According to some recent reports,(1) U.S. trade officials and politicians have begun leaning on Canada to loosen its supply management system for the TPP, particularly for dairy products.
The Dairy Farmers of Ontario estimate(2) the province’s farmers churn out $1.8 billion worth of milk a year. Prior to a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, Ontario Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal said the Liberal government is “totally committed to supply management.”
Leal called supply management, “one of the best economic models ever designed for the agriculture sector in the province of Ontario and indeed throughout Canada.”
Leal offered a similar view to website iPolitics earlier this week(3). On Wednesday, he again credited supply management for propping up Ontario farmers during the mad cow (or BSE) crisis a decade ago. “If it hadn’t have been for supply management, a lot of rural Ontario would have collapsed during those very difficult times for our cattle farmers.”
Whether Canada’s negotiators will wilt under pressure from TPP trade partners remains to be seen. Federal International Trade Minister Ed Fast’s office told The Globe and Mail(4) they “won’t be bullied into negotiating this through the media.”
TPP trade officials are meeting in Maui, Hawaii from July 24 to July 27, followed by a ministerial meeting July 28-31.
Leal said the provinces haven’t been involved in any discussions regarding TPP, but added that a recent meeting of federal, provincial and territorial agriculture ministers produced a statement(5) backing supply management.
“Ministers reaffirmed support for developing new markets around the world for Canadian products, including through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, while continuing to preserve the integrity of the supply management system,” stated the communiqué.
“Continued federal-provincial-territorial collaboration is crucial to ensuring that billions in strategic investments translate into real benefits for our producers and processors through more innovation, improved competitiveness and access to new markets,” said a statement from federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, who co-chaired the meeting of ministers.
Other federal politicians, including NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, have also confirmed their support(6) for the supply management system.
Canada’s supply management system controls the price of milk, cheese, eggs and poultry, as well as sets quotas and limits imports with high tariffs. While it may benefit farmers, critics claim the system drives up the prices of those goods, costing Canadians more for dietary staples.
Leal has also called on Ottawa to offer compensation to dairy farmers affected by the un-ratified Canada-European Trade Agreement. CETA, as it’s known, would permit 17,700 additional tonnes of European cheese to come to Canada’s shores.
Leal said the federal government suggested it was committed to compensating dairy farmers for the European influx.
“We’re still waiting,” said Leal. “The federal government has not engaged the provinces on what that compensation would look like. And as I said just recently, before we enter into any new trade deals we’ve got to solve the issues related to the previous trade deals.”
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