Federal New Democrats and Liberals want to see assurances from the governing Conservatives that supply management won’t be a bargaining chip for Canada to secure a spot in a proposed Asia Pacific free trade deal.
The Tories on Sunday announced Canada’s formal intent to enter consultations with members of the nine-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) toward this country’s "possible participation in negotiations."
TPP participants so far include the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Chile, Peru and Brunei Darussalam. Mexico and Japan, like Canada, seek to join the TPP talks.
Canada’s wish to pull up a chair at those talks "begs the question, what has (Prime Minister Stephen Harper) agreed to give up with respect to supply management?" Liberal international trade critic and P.E.I. MP Wayne Easter said in a release Monday.
"We know very well that many countries participating in trade talks, including the U.S., want to see our supply management system eliminated," interim NDP leader and Quebec MP Nycole Turmel said in a separate release Wednesday. "The fact is, in order to join in these discussions, the Conservatives will have to put supply management on the table."
The Tories’ agriculture minister, however, said this week that all countries, Canada included, approach such negotiations "with a view to protecting their interests."
Canada’s approach to the TPP talks "will not be different in this regard," Gerry Ritz said in an email statement Tuesday.
"Canada will seek to defend and promote our specific interests in every sector of our economy, including supply management."
But the opposition parties want more specific commitments to the supply management system for dairy, egg and poultry production, in view of the government’s plans for another Canadian system of managed ag markets.
"The Harper Conservatives are in the process of killing the Canadian Wheat Board so it is not a far stretch to think that supply management could be the next victim in their ideological quest to put free market ideology ahead of the interests of Canadian farmers," Liberal ag critic Frank Valeriote, a Guelph MP, said Monday.
The Tories, he said, "have to come clean on the nature of the TPP discussions Canada is engaged in and tell Canadian farmers what safeguards they are putting in place to protect this critically important agricultural program."
"Canadians want to know what’s actually happening behind the closed doors of trade negotiations," the NDP’s Turmel said Wednesday. "The Harper government is selling out Prairie family farms by axing the wheat board. We’re not going to let this government take away the tools that Quebec and Ontario farmers rely on to earn their living and feed our population."
At least one supply-managed commodity group, Dairy Farmers of Canada, has said it’s been assured that Canada wouldn’t pre-negotiate its way into the TPP by putting supply management on the table.
"Supply management allows farmers to make a living from the marketplace in Canada," DFC president Wally Smith said Monday. "The government has no desire to see our farmers have to compete against the treasuries of other countries."