Trade deal promises both problems and possibilities for Canadian farmers

Glacier FarmMedia Special Report: CETA is a household word on Canadian farms, but in Europe not so much

Miriam Sweetnam came to Canada from Ireland with her family 15 years ago because of the protection and opportunities offered by Canada’s quota system. Today she farms near Winkler, just north of the U.S. border.

Glacier FarmMedia assembled a team of reporters from its network of publications, which includes the Manitoba Co-operator, to examine the implications of Canada’s new trade deal with the European Union on Canadian agriculture and food processing. In coming weeks, watch for a series of articles that zero in on the challenge Canadian agriculture faces turning this new market potential to market share.

The man on the other end of the phone is confused.

“I have not heard of this before,” Marek Nowak says slowly. “I am of no help for this.”

He’s been asked about the impact the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement — commonly called CETA — might have on Polish dairy farmers such as himself. But like most European dairy producers, he hasn’t heard anything about the yet-to-be ratified deal.

Having recently returned from a 10-month sabbatical in Europe, that doesn’t surprise Sylvain Charlebois, a professor at the University of Guelph’s Food Institute. He said the deal hasn’t made headlines across the Atlantic.

“It’s absolutely a non-story,” said Charlebois. “I actually didn’t hear about it once… I was speaking to dairy farmers and they weren’t aware at all.”

Given the size of Canada’s population compared to that of the EU, it makes sense CETA is a bigger deal for Canadian producers than Europeans, added Agri-Food Economic Systems Inc. founder Al Mussell. He noted European dairy producers and processors are generally more focused on opportunities in the U.S. market than they are on those in Canada.

“If this was front-page news in Europe, that would probably be shocking,” said the researcher.

Here at home, it’s another story. Canadian farmers and the organizations that represent them have followed the negotiations intensely, some with visions of new markets dancing in their heads and others dreading the likelihood of increased competition for domestic sales.

Canada’s dairy sector is widely seen as the sector of Canadian agriculture with the most to lose.

“Whenever trade deals are signed, it raises concerns with producers,” said Dairy Farmers of Manitoba chairman, David Wiens. “Because every time, there is a little bit more access given.”

Once ratified and in force, CETA will allow 18,500 tonnes of tariff-free cheese into Canada. That includes 16,000 tonnes of fine cheeses, 1,700 tonnes of industrial cheeses and 800 tonnes under existing tariff-rate quota — all over and above the 13,471 tonnes of market access the European Union already has.

Dairy Farmers of Canada equates the CETA concessions to a 2.25 per cent reduction in quota or a farm revenue loss of roughly $150 million each year. But the bigger question is what does this mean for Canada’s supply-managed dairy system?

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