Ottawa has been lobbying for entry into the group by sending international trade minister Ed Fast on a trade mission to Australia and New Zealand and Harper’s chief of staff Nigel Wright to Washington. The United States and New Zealand both have serious concerns about Canada’s involvement because of this country’s supply management system that protects dairy and poultry farmers. In the past when Canada has negotiated to join trade pacts it usually has to make changes to its own systems to be eligible for trade agreements. In 2001, Canada had to scrap the Auto Pact when it was declared illegal by the World Trade Organization, for example. Cormack farmer Ron Burnett said he finds it hypocritical that Canada is asked to give something up that other countries already have. His thinking is that this country’s marketing boards could be scrapped.
“(Prime Minister) Harper says this is only preliminary, and I don’t think it’s a done deal, but I would say marketing boards are on the table somewhere, because according to the rules, we have to follow the same rules (as other member countries) if we join,” he said. “But saying that, dairy farmers in Newfoundland have different rules for blended price because of unusual circumstances of utilizing the ferry.”
But, Burnett said, it doesn’t make it fair.
“The U.S. and these other countries do not have marketing boards but they have more subsidies provided under different names from various local and state governments, as well as federal,” he said. “I don’t blame them for that, but why should we protect jobs in another country and not in this country?”
Pauline Duivenvoorden of the Headline Holsteins farm in Deer Lake said whether Canada gives something up to join the trade pact remains to be seen, and she said right now it’s still too early to tell. Talking about it, she said, is not necessarily a bad thing, but as chairperson for the Dairy Farmers of Newfoundland and Labrador, she does have concerns.
Duivenvoorden called it essential that Canada retains its system, called supply management, for dairy, eggs and poultry, and that it not be traded away. Traditionally the government has supported the system in the past and she hopes that support will continue, and they’ll be watching very carefully to see that the system is maintained.
“There’s always a cost-benefit analysis to be done for all areas of trade,” she said. “My concern for trade agreements is that I always view food as something that should be exempt from trade.”
She called food security a right, which is an argument she said Canadians tend to forget. Whether Canada has to give something up in joining trade pacts depends on what other countries are offering, but she said, having a system that works well for consumers and the farming population is very important.
“That’s where the diligence needs to be, that we don’t trade away our ability to produce food,” she said.
The federal government has not released a cost-benefits study to speculate how much could be gained from joining the trade pact, unlike past negotiations with India and Europe. Although the talks are still in the early stages, Canada has had to accept what has already been agreed to by the partnership, and all the other member countries must approve Canada’s admission.