Canada’s agricultural supply management sector may meet its match in Stockwell Day, the new federal minister of international trade.
At least that’s what the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance (CAFTA) is hoping.
“I think he comes from the right side of the political spectrum,” to get Canada to be a stronger supporter of trade liberalization through the World Trade Organization (WTO) CAFTA president and Alberta cattle farmer Darcy Davis told the Canada Grains Council’s semiannual meeting here Nov. 13.
“I think as we go forward I hope that we develop a trade policy and it can be a policy for all of Canada.”
CAFTA contends Canada’s so-called “balanced” trade position is ineffective and an impediment to trade liberalization. While Canada supports increased market access, an end to export subsidies and a reduction in domestic supports, it also wants import protection to continue for Canadian dairy and poultry producers. Although some have criticized Canada for wanting to have its cake and eat it too, the government points out all countries have “sensitive” industries they want to protect.
Davis questions how “balanced” Canada’s trade position is when 90 per cent of Canadian farms either depend directly on exports or the price of what they produce is set in on world markets. Davis said 80 per cent of Canadian farm gate receipts come from exports compared to just 20 per cent from supply-managed products.
The Conservative government has pledged repeatedly that it will not forsake supply management, even though it doesn’t jibe with its ideology of deregulation and free markets. It’s widely believed the government supports supply management mainly because to do otherwise could cost it votes in Ontario and Quebec. But according to Davis, 75 and 54 per cent of farm gate receipts in those two provinces comes from exports.
“I think Stockwell’s credentials on free markets are probably really good so I think it’s a good challenge for him,” Davis said in an interview.
“I would hope that Stockwell can take everything into account. I think the government has to look after the whole country.”
Davis acknowledged it won’t be easy to get Ottawa to adjust its position, especially with a minority government.
The Doha round of WTO talks, which began in 2001, collapsed in July mainly because India and the United States couldn’t agree on a special safeguard mechanism designed to protect poor farmers by allowing a special tariff on farm products in the event of a surge in imports or a sudden drop in prices.
Canada and the world need a new WTO agreement because the WTO’s Uruguay agreement didn’t go far enough and it could take another 10 years before another deal is struck, Davis said.
Bilateral trade agreements are inferior because they aren’t as comprehensive and Canada, being a small country, can’t negotiate as good a deal as a large country like the United States.
According to Davis the looming global recession could breath new life into the Doha round as countries see increased trade as an antidote to slow economic growth.
There are lots of skeptics when it comes to international trade agreements, Davis agreed, but he said there’s more to be gained by trying than not. [email protected]