Column: Government trade deals leave Canadian farmers feeling put out to pasture

The Hill Times

The supply management sector of Canadian agriculture has been thriving vibrantly for decades, without reliance on the level of subsidies that its U.S. and European Union counterparts depend on for success. However, the Government of Canada, despite its repeated assurances of support, is set to deliver “death by a thousand cuts” to supply-managed sectors through the signing of trade deals like the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), and through the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Just ask the Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC), who represent more than 221,000 farm families across the country, what the CPTPP will mean for their industry. When I met with them on Feb. 6, the message I heard was loud and clear: the removal of U.S. market access means an approximate 60 per cent loss for their industry, but the original concessions to our domestic market under the old TPP remain the same—3.25 per cent. The obvious question that arose is how is this in the best interest of Canadians? That same day, I posed the very same question to Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay during Question Period. The response included more of the same rhetoric and platitudes about promising to consult with farmers.

At the time of writing, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is in Mexico City for NAFTA discussions, and she has acknowledged the difficult trade environment that exists between Canada and the U.S. As readers will know, there have been threats from south of the border to impose huge new tariffs on steel and aluminum exports if no progress is made in NAFTA. It is my sincere hope that the Liberal government will remember that our agricultural supply-managed sectors cannot sustain further concessions, with pieces of their industry being carved out at international bargaining tables.

The Chicken Farmers of Canada have expressed similar concerns with the effects recent trade talks are having on their sector. The importation of spent fowl and the addition of sauces to processed chicken meat where it accounts for more than 13 per cent of overall package weight, is leading to multiple situations where U.S. exporters to Canada can circumvent import quotas—a trade loophole known as “tariff engineering.” These practices continue to happen under this government’s watch and directly affect the import control aspect of the three pillars of supply management (the others being producer pricing and production discipline).

In their 2015 election platform (page 16), the Liberal Party of Canada said it would “defend Canadian interests during trade negotiations, including supply management.” While that sounds like a lot of reassuring and nice talk, without follow-through and taking concrete steps at the negotiating table to protect Canadian producers, this will have to be chalked up as yet another broken promise.

We can be reliably sure that Canadians want to be able to support Canadian farmers and that they want to enjoy Canadian-grown products. As the NDP’s critic for agriculture and agri-food, I will continue to defend our supply management sector. Protecting our supply-managed agricultural sectors and supporting our marketing boards is critical for the long-term viability of our domestic production.

I expect you will see in the Minister of Agriculture Lawrence MacAulay’s Q&A style interview with The Hill Times, more of the rhetoric we’ve been seeing from this government. But that is simply not good enough. Our supply-managed agricultural sectors need to see concrete and demonstrable action to back these words up.

NDP MP Alistair MacGregor, who represents Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, B.C., is his party’s agriculture critic.

By Alistair MacGregor - Published in The Hill Times, March 12, 2018