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CFA Gets Silent Treatment On Internal Trade Deal

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture’s president wants some transparency from the federal and provincial ministers involved in implementing an internal Canadian trade agreement.

First drafted in the mid-1990s as a way to break down protectionist and job mobility barriers among the provinces, the agreement is supposedly moving into the agriculture field during meetings in Yellowknife this month.

“We’re not opposed to the idea of an internal trade agreement,” CFA chief Laurent Pellerin said in an interview Oct. 15. “But we have this perception that what they’re considering isn’t favour-able to farmers. But we’re not sure because the process isn’t transparent.”

He had asked for an urgent meeting in early October with the co-chairs of the internal trade committee: federal Industry Minister Tony Clement and Yukon Economic Development Minister Jim Kenyon. No one responded to his request.

Pellerin’s remaining hope appears to be that CFA’s protests about not having an advance look at the trade committee’s proposals or being consulted on them will be raised during the meeting.

The ministers hope to have a document ready for the signature of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the premiers in January.

NO INDICATION

The CFA told the ministers that the agri-food industry hasn’t had any opportunity to see a copy of the proposed text and comment.

Chapter 9 of the proposed trade agreement that appears on the website of the Internal Trade Secretariat goes into agriculture issues in considerable detail.

However, it’s dated September 1994, when Jean Chrétien was prime minister and Ralph Goodale the agriculture minister, and there’s no indication of what, if any, changes have been made in the subsequent 15 years.

A call to the secretariat for more information wasn’t returned.

Pellerin cited the following concerns:

any revision of Chapter 9 can and will have effects for every sector of Canadian agriculture, yet farmers haven’t been asked for their views;

the text may be damaging to supply management and the Canadian Wheat Board, marketing systems the government says farmers will get to decide on when it comes to international trade negotiations; and

it’s not clear what would happen to ministerial exemptions that could allow for temporary shifts in the movement of farm and food products.

Any proposed rules affecting supply management and orderly marketing should “reflect what was agreed to in the Trade and Co-operation Agreement between Quebec and Ontario,” he said.

At the meeting of federal and provincial agriculture ministers in July, there was a commitment to discuss a 2008 draft of the trade agreement with farm groups, Pellerin said.

The 2008 version isn’t positive for agriculture, making farm organizations apprehensive about the intentions of the federal and provincial governments, he said.

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