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Kiwi Mischief Behind Trade Pact Claim

Trade experts wonder if there’s some Kiwi mischief behind claims that objections from dairy farmers kept Canada out of the initial round of negotiations on a pan Pacific trade agreement.

A slew of stories appeared in the mainstream media in mid-April, citing no one in particular, about how Canada was excluded from 2006 talks involving New Zealand, Singapore, Chile and Brunei on a proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.

Allegedly, the newly elected Harper government chose not to get involved under pressure from the dairy lobby. Canada already has an FTA with Chile.

Negotiations are underway that could see the United States, Australia, Peru and Vietnam joint the agreement. The news reports implied that Canada was left out or had decided not to join these talks because of lobbying by its dairy farmers bent on protecting supply management.

Trade experts laughed off the claims saying the dairy farmers could only wish to have that much influence. They noted that New Zealand is the sole dairy exporter in that group and may have planted the stories among business journalists as part of its opposition to Canadian marketing boards.

Trade guru Peter Clark says the clothing, footwear and auto parts industries would all be as worried about the impact of the Trans-Pacific deal. He branded charges that dairy farmers had derailed Canadian participation as “mischievous, dangerous and misleading.”

“We didn’t realize we had that much clout,” Yves Leduc, director of international trade with Dairy Farmers of Canada, said with a laugh. His group never opposed Canadian involvement in the Pacific talks because they would be conducted on the same basis as Canada has employed at the WTO negotiations. Dairy hasn’t been an issue in trade talks with the United States, Chile and Peru.

Treasury Board president Stockwell Day, who was trade minister in 2006 when the Pacific talks started, says Canada made it clear it was interested in the deal but it wasn’t invited to join. It would like to participate in the current round but it has to be invited.

He says Canada’s position in the talks would be to support supply management for the dairy and poultry marketing boards as it does in the WTO negotiations.

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