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Government Says Free Trade Talks With Europe On Track

Free trade talks between Canada and the European Union are making substantial progress toward a broad and ambitious agreement, according to trade ministers from both sides.

“We’re satisfied with the progress going into the next round of talks in Brussels in January,” Trade Minister Peter Van Loan said at a news conference on Dec. 15 with European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht.

Neither man would talk about details of the negotiations, preferring to highlight the potential economic benefits.

Predictably one of the first questions was about the fate of supply management. As he had during a debate in the Commons the previous day, Van Loan said the dairy-and poultry-marketing systems weren’t on the negotiating table.

However, Canada is considering a European demand for greater recognition of its geographical indicators – which are brand names for products from a specific region, such as Parma ham from Italy. Europe is looking for increased access in Canada for specialty cheeses, as well as rules which would prevent Canadian companies from using European brand names such as Parma ham and Feta cheese. There is already a similar restriction which prevents Canadian wineries from labelling sparkling wines as champagne.

Van Loan said the proposed deal will create opportunities and jobs for Canadians and could produce a $12-billion increase in trade across the Atlantic. Canada is looking to gain increased access to Europe for Canadian beef, pork and grains, which now face hefty tariffs and quotas.

De Gucht said the negotiations were progressing ahead of expectations.

“I am delighted with how much ground has already been covered so far in the negotiation for the benefit of our economies.”

In the debate in the House of Commons, Van Loan said, “This support is clear and categorical. In these negotiations, we have supported and intend to continue supporting the supply management system, and that support is robust and unequivocal.”

Liberal farm spokesman Wayne Easter said he wasn’t buying the government’s contention that supply management was protected.

“The rhetoric … is, in many respects, suspect,” said Easter. “In reality, one can support the idea of something until, to obtain something else, it is negotiated away.

“If the Conservatives were really honest in saying that they will defend supply management, then it would not be on the table in the first place, because there is the real possibility that although they support the idea of supply management, it can in fact be negotiated away for something else.

“It can be traded off. That is our worry in the official opposition. That is the worry of the Dairy Farmers of Canada.”

Easter also complained that the Europeans hadn’t put their Common Agricultural Policy on the negotiating table.

“On an annual basis, the EU spends about 43 billion euros on CAP, of which 88 per cent is in direct payments, with the remainder dedicated to programs focused on responding to declines in market prices of commodities.”

He accused the government of failing to be transparent about the talks.

“Our cheese markets could potentially be opened up and undermine our price structure in Canada,” said Easter. “Geographical indications could also be a serious issue for some of our products that are produced in this country.”

The EU also wants to reduce the power of the Canadian Wheat Board, he said.

But Gerald Keddy, parliamentary secretary for trade, said the dairy and poultry boards have been consulted regularly during negotiations.

“They have not expressed any shock or fear that somehow we are going to negotiate supply management away,” he said. As a matter of fact, they have been complimentary on the way that we have held our negotiations and have been very careful in our maoeuvering with the European Union.”

The Europeans are considering changes to the CAP, which is why it’s not being negotiated, he said.

“As far as geographical indicators go, there are some geographical indicators that we have concerns about,” said Keddy. “We have some geographical indicators in Canada that we would certainly like to see protected, but the Europeans have much more they want protected than we do. We are in a much better position at the negotiating table than they are.”

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