After years as Canada’s chief agriculture negotiator at the WTO, Steve Verheul has joined the team of Canadian officials working out a free trade deal with the European Union.
Verheul, who was raised on a Southern Ontario dairy farm, has spoken to countless farm meetings since he took on the chief negotiator’s job in the Doha round. He was an assistant negotiator before that creating the impression he’s been doing the job forever, farm spokesmen say.
In a world where bureaucrats work hard at saying nothing, Verheul has always been candid and blunt about the prospects and implications of a new international trade agreement and the difficulties Canada faces advancing its balanced position of protecting supply management and supporting more open trading.
He’s never showed even a trace of disagreement or frustration with that position, which has been Canada’s stance for more than a decade. Nor has there ever been reports of friction with the cavalcade of agriculture ministers he’s dealt with over that time.
Frédéric Seppey, acting director general of the Negotiation and Multilateral Trade Policy Directorate, is filling in as the chief WTO agriculture negotiator while the government runs a competition to find a full time successor for Verheul.
Laurent Pellerin, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, said in an interview Verheul will be missed in Geneva if the WTO negotiations suddenly move ahead. “It would be good to have someone there who we can really count on.
“But it will be good to have him involved in the EU negotiations because that market offers us a lot of possibilities,” Pellerin added. “Those negotiations won’t be easy because the recent expansion of the EU means it has a lot of factors to consider.”
He said farm groups appreciate Verheul’s work. “He’s one of the best agriculture negotiators ever. He understands everything about agriculture. He listened to us and tried to understand our concerns. We often heard him use our arguments. He respected our points of view even if he didn’t always agree with them.”
Jacques Laforge, president of Dairy Farmers of Canada, said Verheul “is very knowledgeable about agriculture and trade issues. He knew what we needed from the Doha round.”
At the same time, it’s good news for Canadian farmers that he will have a prominent role in the negotiations with the EU, Laforge said. “The WTO is at a standstill and we appreciate the work he did for us.”
“Steve had a very difficult task on the Doha round and earned a lot of respect and is more than ready for the broader negotiations in his new job,” says veteran trade analyst Peter Clark. “The real action will be bilateral over the next few years and the EU negotiations the most important since the Canada-U. S. free trade agreement. I feel very comfortable with him playing a leading role with the EU.”
Clark says Canadian support for an eventual WTO deal remains strong “but more and more it looks like it has the wrong agenda and was launched for the wrong reasons. Moving Steve to the EU bilateral is the best use of Canada’s available talent and resources.”