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Trade minister knows rural trade concerns

His constituency in Quebec is also home to many dairy farmers

Trade Minister François Philippe Champagne likes to talk about how the proposed trade deal with Europe will eventually see most Canadian exports to the continent enter duty free.

At the same time, his political circumstances make him well aware of rural concerns about the deal’s impacts, he told the Senate foreign affairs committee.

In addition to dairy farmers in his Quebec riding, he has an award-winning cheese maker FX Pichet.

He said producers and manufacturers alike need to tap into a $350-million program announced by Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay to help the industry adjust to increased European cheese imports as well as tap into a growth in European market for Canadian dairy products.

The government needs “to work with small- and medium-size farming communities to make sure these programs are leading to the results you would expect. Because what we want to see and why we have been able to negotiate free market access in Europe is to give them a chance to do more.”

Having more cheese coming in shouldn’t be a concern, he said.

“The big prize for us is having our producers taking the opportunity they have now to export in Europe,” Champagne said. “I would hope to work with them to make sure that these investments in plant and equipment would allow them to access the primary consumer market for these products in Europe.”

Champagne said he recently attended GulFood Fair in Dubai. Canada’s work in improving food safety has people looking at Canadian products in a very favourable way.

“Food safety is a big thing in the world, and I would hope through the measures we’ve put in place now that our cheese producers will be able to export in Europe and benefit from this market access which is not present today because of the import duty,” he said.

The minister also said the government is in regular communication with the British government to keep the trade relationship between the two countries continuing as it prepares to leave the European Union.

“Obviously, the U.K. is our largest trading partner within Europe, that through provisional application (of the deal with Europe), Canada and the U.K. will have a free trade agreement. They have been one of the strongest proponents in the EU with regard to CETA.”

British officials can’t yet negotiate a separate free trade deal with Canada but discussions between the two sides continue, he said.

“We want to offer predictability, stability,” Champagne said. “We understand it is in both nations’ best interests. We want the good trading relationship to continue after they finish their process with Europe. I can assure you that’s something which we’re looking at very carefully.”

With CETA fully implemented, 99 per cent of the more than 9,000 European tariff lines will be duty free for Canadian goods. “That is the message that I repeat to small- and medium-size businesses everywhere I go in Canada. There are enormous opportunities for Canadian businesses ahead of us.”

Steve Verheul, the chief Canadian negotiator for the European deal, said that when fully implemented the deal will cover 99 per cent of the tariffs between Europe and Canada as well as 99 per cent of the trade.

“The only items not covered at the request of both sides was poultry and eggs,” he said. “On our side, the only dairy products we covered were cheese and milk protein substances. Those were the only issues where we completely exempted complete tariff elimination on our side. On the EU side, we have tariff quotas on products like beef and pork, but there is a tariff if those quotas are exceeded.”

Beef and pork should eventually have access to Europe worth $1 billion.

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