Cana­dian farm­ers on the los­ing end of trade deal

‘Es­sen­tially, CETA will be erod­ing the mar­ket for ar­eas that have been gen­er­ally vi­able’

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - BRIAN GRIF­FITH Brian Grif­fith op­er­ates a farm in Mount Hope. He has been in­volved in farm­ing and beef pro­duc­tion for 45 years and has ex­pe­ri­enced many of the re­al­i­ties of the busi­ness, good and bad.

Our fed­eral gov­ern­ment is push­ing Bill C-30 through the par­lia­men­tary process to­ward its pass­ing as quickly and qui­etly as pos­si­ble. This is the leg­is­la­tion re­quired to im­ple­ment the Com­pre­hen­sive Euro­pean Trade Agree­ment (CETA).

It could be that they are afraid that too many more peo­ple may dis­cover just how neg­a­tive some as­pects of this deal re­ally are. Many Euro­pean coun­tries may not rat­ify it for some time. It was de­vel­oped largely in se­cret with very lit­tle ob­jec­tive in­for­ma­tion avail­able to the public un­til it was re­leased. Mean­ing­ful public con­sul­ta­tion since then has likely been just cam­ou­flage. Pro­mo­tion of this agree­ment has cen­tred around im­prove­ments in GDP and more to­tal dol­lars of ex­ports, which is pre­dicted will gen­er­ate more jobs. I have seen very few cred­i­ble fig­ures on good jobs cre­ated versus good jobs lost by pre­vi­ous trade agree­ments (e.g. NAFTA). Our bal­ance of trade with coun­tries in­volved seems to have be­come worse.

It is pos­si­ble that CETA could pro­vide some in­creased export po­ten­tial for cer­tain agri­cul­tural com­modi­ties (e.g. pork, beef, grain). Un­for­tu­nately, it will surely shrink the mar­ket for oth­ers (e.g. milk, poul­try and eggs). Es­sen­tially, CETA will be erod­ing the mar­ket for ar­eas that have been gen­er­ally vi­able for Cana­dian farm­ers, the econ­omy and the public purse and ex­pand­ing the mar­ket for oth­ers that have his­tor­i­cally been much more prob­lem­atic. CETA is un­likely to help those pro­duc­ers much.

For decades, agri­cul­tural com­modi­ties that have lit­tle or no strat­egy for com­pet­ing in the mar­ket­place have suf­fered from prices that have been be­low the cost of pro­duc­tion too much of the time. Beef, pork and now grain farm­ers (with the abo­li­tion of the Cana­dian Western Wheat Board) are es­sen­tially “price tak­ers.” The main strat­egy in these ar­eas is “hope” and that has not proven to be a sound busi­ness prac­tice. CETA is not go­ing to change that.

For years, the beef in­dus­try has been fraught with a high per­cent­age of farm­ers need­ing ad­di­tional in­come to sur­vive. This may in­clude pro­duc­ing other agri­cul­tural com­modi­ties, off farm in­come in­clud­ing jobs some­times with both spouses work­ing to main­tain strug­gling beef en­ter­prises, huge stress and worse over enough resources to meet fam­ily re­quire­ments, fam­ily dis­cord and dis­rup­tions. Bank­rupt­cies (even a large Al­berta feed­lot is ex­it­ing the busi­ness re­cently), huge turnover of in­di­vid­u­als, gov­ern­ment bailouts, lower op­er­a­tional ef­fi­ciency be­cause of time con­straints and resources to ac­cess avail­able tech­nol­ogy, etc. oc­cur reg­u­larly.

The pro­cess­ing in­dus­try has evolved to even more dom­i­na­tion by fewer and more pow­er­ful en­ter­prises. Beef farm­ers de­pend on com­pe­ti­tion be­tween these pack­ers to gen­er­ate a sus­tain­able price. CETA will not help these farm­ers ac­com­plish this. Any price in­crease, which might oc­cur as a re­sult of more trade, will be off­set by in­creased (over) pro­duc­tion that will drive the price down again. This is the way the un­reg­u­lated (free) mar­ket al­ways works.

Fur­ther, some tech­ni­cal pro­cess­ing dif­fi­cul­ties ex­ist in Canada that will not likely al­low our beef to be ex­ported to Euro­pean coun­tries any time soon. The Cana­dian Cat­tle­mans’ As­so­ci­a­tion, de­spite ag­gres­sive gov­ern­ment lob­by­ing in favour of CETA, ad­mits that it could be many years be­fore these prob­lems are re­solved. Mean­time, Euro­pean beef can flow into Canada as soon as the agree­ment starts cre­at­ing down­ward price pres­sures.

Now this may ap­pear to be good news for Cana­dian con­sumers, but in the longer term it will surely lead to the con­sump­tion of more beef that is not pro­duced in Canada. Farm­ers here will be com­pet­ing with sub­si­dized prod­uct from other coun­tries that may not have the same safety stan­dards as we de­mand, will un­doubt­edly have a higher car­bon foot­print be­cause of more trans­porta­tion or pro­duced in a less en­vi­ron­men­tally re­spon­si­ble way by work­ers who are not ad­e­quately paid. In ad­di­tion, ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties in Canada will suf­fer be­cause of fewer and less vi­able farm­ing op­er­a­tions and will have re­duced abil­ity to main­tain ru­ral pro­grams and su­per struc­ture.

I am not a pro­tec­tion­ist. Good trade can be very ben­e­fi­cial, but I have huge con­cerns about long-term deals ne­go­ti­ated with so lit­tle re­gard to the wel­fare and ex­pec­ta­tions of “mid­dle class” Cana­di­ans who have the most skin in the game be­cause they are in­stru­men­tal in the pro­duc­tion of the prod­uct to be ex­ported.

Ev­ery­body eats in Canada and it makes sense that Cana­dian farm­ers should thrive by pro­duc­ing this food wher­ever pos­si­ble. They are one of the most sta­bi­liz­ing in­flu­ences on our so­ci­ety and econ­omy and on a food se­cure fu­ture for all of us.

A Guelph-area farmer leads his cows on a walk. Brian Grif­fith warns a Euro­pean trade deal will have more draw­backs than ben­e­fits for Cana­dian beef pro­duc­ers.

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