by SUSAN MANN
Dairy farmers looking for rock-solid assurance that the Canadian government will protect the supply management system as it currently stands while moving ahead on the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement won’t find it from Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.
During a question period at a press conference Friday concluding the federal, provincial and territorial agriculture ministers’ meeting in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Ritz said “we’ve shown concern for the supply managed sector in all of the negotiations that we’ve undertaken. At the same time we have to have a balanced act between the multitude of commodities that are exported.”
Ritz added that “we as a country have never negotiated this in public and I have no intention of starting to do that now.”
Ritz made the comments in response to a question about a resolution passed at the Dairy Farmers of Canada annual meeting July 14 and 15 in Vancouver calling on the government to not make any concessions to supply management as part of the agreement.
Sandra Da Silva, Dairy Farmers of Canada assistant external communications director, said delegates to the Dairy Farmers annual meeting unanimously passed a resolution stating “Dairy Farmers of Canada insists the government and all Canadian parliamentarians make no dairy sector concessions in the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations.”
The resolution was forwarded to Ritz’s office, she said.
The Trans Pacific Partnership involves negotiations between 12 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, a market of more than 792 million people and a combined GDP of $28.1 trillion or more than 38 per cent of the world’s economy, according to the website of Canada’s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Department.
Canada has been facing pressure from the United States and other countries that are part of the negotiations to change its supply management system for the dairy, eggs and poultry sectors.
About where negotiations stand, Ritz said the United States Congress fast-tracking authority for President Barack Obama to finish negotiating the deal puts “a new focus from all countries that there is a chance this can move forward. It has reinvigorated the pressure to get to the table and finalize these talks.”
Negotiators are meeting in Maui, Hawaii July 24 to 27 and working to resolve matters. The trickiest issues will be left for a ministerial summit to handle during meetings scheduled for the end of July also in Hawaii, Ritz noted.
As with any negotiations, “everybody’s down to the delicate and most defensive positions on a myriad of issues, not just agriculture,” Ritz said. “We’ll assess it as we move forward and we’ll continue to look for a balanced outcome.”
The Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations also came up during the Canadian Federation of Agriculture’s roundtable meeting Wednesday, held before the ministers’ meeting.
Federation president Ron Bonnett said the potential deal “sounds like it’s coming together fairly quickly and is in the final stages of negotiations.” Farm leaders reiterated their support for the need for market access and the need to ensure “we don’t get a deal that just knocks the living daylights out of the supply management sector. The deal has to be good for all farmers,” Bonnett said.
The other two areas farm leaders discussed with agriculture ministers at the federation meeting included the need for disaster relief programs to kick in quickly for drought stricken farmers in Western Canada and how to respond to consumer demands covering a range of farming practices, such as animal care and environmental requirements.
“There are all kinds of demands coming through the system wanting farmers to perform certain functions, but they (consumers) may not really have a good idea of what it is we’re doing and how we’re doing it,’ Bonnett said, noting they discussed ways to have a coordinated response from government, farmers and processors. That way when “some whacky stuff comes off the wall with weird demands we have a way to address it.”
Bonnett said all agriculture ministers attended the roundtable meeting of farm leaders and he described it as positive.
The government’s release says the agriculture ministers committed to ongoing coordinated activity to boost the competitiveness of the sector, which contributes more than $100 billion to Canada’s economy and represents seven per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. The ministers reiterated the importance of governments and industry cooperating to ensure “investments and priorities are aligned with the needs of the sector.” BF