Farm groups offer cautious support to Europe trade deal

As a posse of Harper cabinet ministers and MPs fanned out across the country to round up support for a free trade deal with Europe (CETA), several farm groups offered carefully worded backing for more trans-Atlantic trade.

However, as the details of the trade deal are still being negotiated, the groups carefully stuck to the merits they can see in a deal without getting into issues outside their immediate interests.

After several years of negotiations, the government hopes to have a tentative deal before the end of 2012. While it has consulted with provinces and economic groups, it has said little to counter municipalities and other groups which have attacked the deal for various reasons from losing control of government procurement to tougher rules for generic drugs.

The posse was intended to counter the criticisms, but the Conservatives could do little more than offer hopeful predictions of increased trade and more jobs for Canadians.

Jean-Guy Vincent, chairman of the Canadian Pork Council said an ambitious Canada-European Union trade agreement would significantly enhance the sector’s export opportunities as well as benefit workers, businesses and families who rely on the pork sector for their livelihood.

While there are no tariffs or quotas on pork imports to Canada, the Canadian industry is seriously constrained from access into the EU because of tariffs, tariff rate quotas, import permits and licensing requirements, he said. Equivalency in access conditions for pork trade between Canada and the European Union is one of the most promising opportunities to increase returns and to provide growth for hog producers and value-chain partners, including grain growers, pork processors and the many Canadian companies involved in the meat export trade.

Martin Unrau, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said achieving unfettered market access into the EU, where annual beef consumption is approximately eight million tonnes, would improve the industry’s competitiveness.

“The CCA supports reaching a free trade agreement with Europe that will eliminate a prohibitively high beef tariff as well as address several technical issues that prevent Canadian beef from realizing its potential in that very lucrative market,” he added.

“The CETA agreement will mean more exports which will in turn mean more profits for Canadian farmers at the farm gate,” said Stephen Vandervalk, president of Grain Growers of Canada.

CETA is the greatest trade opportunity Canada has seen since NAFTA, he said. “The European Union has 500 million people and a GDP of over $17 trillion. Their tastes are similar to ours and they have an appreciation for high-quality Canadian agriculture products. It is a market where we have a lot of room to grow and it is a market that has cash to pay for high quality.”

Currently, Canadian exports to Europe are only one-tenth of what Canada sells to the United States. “Farmers have learned through experience, while the U.S. is one of our best trading partners, we need to diversify where possible,” said Vandervalk. Future projections from a joint study with the EU indicate that a CETA agreement could boost bilateral trade by 20 per cent and could increase Canada’s annual income by $12 billion.

He praised Ritz and Trade Minister Ed Fast for their work on developing new markets.

“It is important the Canada-EU deal remains a high priority, so we call on the government to step up their efforts towards a successful conclusion to this trade deal,” he said.

Richard Phillips, president of the Canada Agri-Food Trade Alliance, noted 50 agri-food leaders were out to highlight the importance of trade. “It is critical to the viability and vitality of Canada’s agriculture and food sectors. In Canada we export $40 billion a year in agriculture and food products. Without trade the size, shape and stability of Canada’s agri-food sectors would change for the worse.”

Canada currently exports half of its agriculture and food products including 50 per cent of its beef production, 65 per cent of its malt, two-thirds of its pork, almost 75 per cent of its wheat and 85 per cent of its canola. CAFTA members represent 80 per cent of Canada’s agri-food exports.

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