Opinion: Dairy farmers get (undeserved) bad rap during TPP negotiations

dairy cow

The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement involves 12 countries representing about 40 per cent of the world’s economy, but some of Canada’s national media coverage would have had you believe that there is only one issue holding it up — access to Canada’s dairy market.

The Globe and Mail was the worst offender — TPP negotiators have done a pretty good job of keeping the talks secret, so in the absence of details or whenever they were stuck for a column topic, writers would fire off a piece on how Canada’s ‘overprotected’ and ‘politically powerful’ dairy farmers were the main sticking point for the deal.

When the talks failed to meet a July 31 deadline last week, it finally emerged that there were other issues at play, such as auto parts and drug patents. The U.S. has done a masterful job of portraying Canadian dairy access as the main sticking point, but it now turns out that virtually every other country opposed the U.S. position on the length of time for drug patent protection. And when it comes to protected agricultural markets, the granddaddy of them all is U.S. sugar, and the U.S. was unwilling to budge on Australian requests for more access.

Whether or not the TPP talks continue, there will be pressure on supply management, especially for dairy. In the short term, Dairy Farmers of Canada has been doing its best to fend off attacks through advertisements and press releases. In the long term, one of the best arguments is that when it comes to herd size, animal welfare and government support, we don’t want the U.S. system. Maintaining public support for supply management depends on demonstrating that on all those points, our system is better.

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