The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) loomed large last week, as the Manitoba Turkey Producers gathered in Winnipeg for its annual general meeting.
“This is the most significant and serious issue that we as turkey farmers will be facing in the coming years,” said chairman Bill Uruski.
Calvin McBain of the Turkey Farmers of Canada said when the deal comes into effect, it will severely curtail the industry’s future prospects.
“We will basically be exporting the growth potential for our market,” he said.
If the two per cent increase in duty-free direct access comes into Canada in the form of breast meat, Uruski said the market loss will be equivalent to the entire turkey production of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick combined. By the end of the TPP’s 18-year-long phase-in period, there will have been a 70 per cent increase in foreign access to Canada’s supply-managed turkey sector, equalling about five per cent of current production.
“I relate it to medieval torture,” Uruski told producers. “Only one turn of the screw a year so your body gets used to it. You don’t die, but it’s certainly painful all the time.”
However, the TPP is far from being the first turn of the screw. Uruski pointed to a lengthy history of trade deals that have eroded both supply management and the Canadian job market, beginning with the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement in 1987.
“We pay a high price for these treaties in terms of lost sovereignty, but what has been the payoff? Do these agreements actually increase trade and foreign direct investment?” he asked.
For Uruski, the answer is a resounding no.
Pointing to a 1998 study by the investment review division of Industry Canada, he said that more than 90 per cent of foreign investment at that time actually went to the acquisition of Canadian companies, essentially foreign takeovers. He also noted Canada had a trade deficit of $17 billion in 2015.
“The TPP, like previous agreements, is not primarily about trade, but about investment protection for the largest transnational corporations and many are in the business of food,” Uruski said. “This agreement will provide corporations based in these countries with new and powerful rights, including the right to sue the Canadian government for any measure that affects their future profits — it’s been done.”
Phil Boyd, executive director of the Turkey Farmers of Canada, said the organization is working to locate areas within the agreement that can be capitalized on by turkey producers, but silver linings are hard to find.
“There has been no reduction in overquota tariffs for turkey, which represent 19 different tariff lines,” said Boyd. “And that our overquota tariffs have been left intact is really very fundamentally important in terms of supporting important measures… that really provides a high level of assurance.”
The deal also presents an opportunity to export dark meat, but capitalizing on it will be challenging.
“We see good potential in exporting dark, meaning in particular to Mexico for example, which we haven’t been able to do under the terms of NAFTA,” he said. “Whether that unfolds or not… we’ll see. It’s difficult to compete with the America market, it is about 15 times our size in terms of scale and has been exporting to Mexico for years.”
With the new Liberal government embarking on TPP consultations, now is the time for producers and industry to make their concerns known, said Uruski, noting the average annual loss per farm will be $26,000 once the deal is implemented.
“We need to show them what the impacts of this deal are,” he said. “We as turkey farmers do have a story to tell. We spend locally at machine and auto dealerships, equipment suppliers, feed companies, all prosper from our spending. Under the TPP, our Canadian food security program will be slowly unravelled.”