Dairy farmers stand firm on NAFTA
It seems almost a given now that any trade deal Canada strikes with the United States will have to offer up more American access to the Canadian dairy market.
But a leader of this country’s main milk-producing lobby group said Monday his industry has given enough in previous trade deals and will not tolerate more concessions.
As the two nations’ chief negotiators prepared to resume their talks in Washington Tuesday, dairy producers suggest this deal is a line in the sand for them.
“We’ve taken those hits for team Canada, and we are determined that there be no further concessions on dairy,” said David Wiens, vice president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada. “We have hit a wall on this where enough is enough.”
Wiens declined to say what action the organization would take if an updated NAFTA deal gave the U.S. a greater chunk of the Canadian market, but did not rule out campaigning against ratification, or the Liberal government.
Dairy farmers are considered a potent political force in Quebec and Ontario, the two provinces where the industry is strongest, and two key battlegrounds in next year’s federal election.
The office of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland confirmed she would be meeting U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Tuesday, after their second week of last-minute talks ended Friday without an accord.
Lighthizer has already forged a sweeping agreement with Mexico to update NAFTA. A political deadline in Mexico to sign the deal by Dec. 1, plus requirements in American law have put pressure on Canada to join the pact by the end of this month at the latest.
U.S. President Donald Trump warned Friday that he would impose 20-percent tariffs on auto imports from Canada if it does not agree to a “fair” deal, a move he said would bring “ruination” here.
The talks are focused on U.S. demands to scrap the so-called Chapter-19 dispute resolution mechanism in NAFTA, overturn some of Canada’s current “carve-out” of cultural industries from free-trade rules and loosen protections under the dairy sector’s supply management system. Under that system, the U.S. exports about $500 million of dairy products duty free to Canada — three times what it imports from here — but faces tariffs of up to 300 per cent for anything more.
Various U.S. officials — including Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow — have stressed that the milk issue is integral to a trade deal.
Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested a week ago that Canada was willing to bend on dairy.
But Wiens said concessions made in Canada’s Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal with Pacific nations and the CETA pact with Europe have already forced his members to give up an extra five per cent of the market — a $250-million loss.