Rumors of major concessions in TPP talks worry farmers
On Saturday, the president of the Union des producteurs agricoles ( UPA) and spokesperson for the Coalition GO5, Marcel Groleau, reacted strongly to the information reported by the CBC that, as part of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade talks, Canada was ready to make a major concession of 10 % of the Canadian dairy market to the Americans. “This would be a catastrophe for the Canadian dairy sector, our family farms, local production and the tens of thousands of employees who depend on it. And it will be Quebec, where 43 % of farm revenue depends on supply management, which will be hit hardest. The Harper government must respect its commitments and protect the supply management system in the TPP,” commented Mr. Groleau.
The blow could be fatal for the supply management system which assures Canadians a local supply of high quality products and provides farmers with a fair and stable income, without financial subsidies, while American dairy farms enjoy subsidies that have not been put on the table during the TPP negotiations. The American farms also profit from better weather conditions and low-priced manpower, often under the table. The size of the American dairy sector is more than ten times the size of the Canadian sector and the majority of production comes from the southwest United States, where farms have an average of several thousand cows. The average number of cows on a family farm in Quebec is sixty.
“If this rumor becomes part of the agreement this week during the ministerial conference in Atlanta, we will feel betrayed by the government,” said Bruno Letendre, the president of the Producteurs de lait du Québec (PLQ).
In last Thursday’s electoral debate, Prime Minister Harper confirmed that he would defend the supply management system in the TPP negotiations after being questioned by the leaders of the NDP, the Bloc Quebecois and the Green Party. Earlier in the day, about 1,500 farm producers held a protest in front of the Radio-Canada tower, where the debate was taking place, to ask that all the leaders work to preserve the supply management system by not giving up new access to the Canadian market and to maintain the tariff levels.
The president of the PLQ added: “We import more than 8 % of our dairy needs, and most of those importations come from the United States. This quantity continues to increase with the importations of American concentrated milk protein which enters Canada without limits or tariffs because of Canada’s laxness regarding controls in commercial agreements. The United States imports less than 2 % of their market needs and they demand that Canada open its border wider to compensate for the new access they have accorded to dairy products from New Zealand. Canada shouldn’t have to absorb American losses,” said Mr. Letendre.
Milk producers need to be rapidly assured that they will not be sacrificed once again in the TPP talks as they were in the Canada-Europe Accord. The 17,700 tons of new imported cheeses conceded by Canada equals more than 30 % of the Canadian fine cheese market and causes annual losses of about $300 million to Canadian milk and cheese producers. We have given enough!” concluded the president of the PLQ.
The growing season has been great for feed crops.