Farm­ers need pro­tec­tion

N.L. agri­cul­ture sec­tor vul­ner­a­ble on sup­ply man­age­ment


Like the rest of Canada, New­found­land and Labrador has a lot on the line in on­go­ing, cross­bor­der trade ne­go­ti­a­tions.

But there are some el­e­ments of spe­cific con­cern for this prov­ince.

The fate of the Cor­ner Brook Pulp and Pa­per mill, be­ing a lynch­pin for much of the prov­ince’s forestry in­dus­try, with 5,000 jobs, is one of those.

Another con­cern be­ing dis­cussed in North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment (NAFTA) rene­go­ti­a­tions is Canada’s sup­ply­man­age­ment sys­tem, cur­rently main­tain­ing eco­nomic pro­tec­tions for Cana­dian dairy and poul­try prod­ucts and pro­duc­ers.

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has made it clear he’s no fan of the sys­tem Canada has had in place since the 1970s to pro­tect lo­cal farm­ers from be­ing swamped by Amer­i­can chal­lengers with cheaper prod­ucts.

“Canada charges the U.S. a 270% tar­iff on Dairy Prod­ucts! They didn’t tell you that, did they? Not fair to our farm­ers!” read a June 8 blast on Twit­ter from @re­alDon­aldTrump.

As he tweeted on Sun­day, June 10: “Fair Trade is now to be called Fool Trade if it is not Re­cip­ro­cal … Tax Dairy from us at 270%. Then Justin acts hurt when called out!”

Pro­tec­tion­ist tar­iffs for Canada on dairy and poul­try as part of the sup­ply-man­age­ment sys­tem have been a touch­stone for the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent lately.

But Trump is not alone in chal­leng­ing the sta­tus quo in Canada, with chal­lengers on this side of the border also in­ter­ested in change, to dif­fer­ing de­grees.

For ex­am­ple, as the CBC re­ported, Maxime Bernier was re­moved from the Con­ser­va­tives’ front bench in the House of Com­mons by Con­ser­va­tive Leader An­drew Scheer ear­lier this week, in a move at­tributed to Bernier’s com­ments in an un­pub­lished book, re­port­edly speak­ing to “fake Con­ser­va­tives” who joined the party to de­fend the sup­ply-man­age­ment sys­tem.

This week, The Na­tional Post pub­lished a piece calling out Canada’s Con­ser­va­tives for sup­port­ing sup­ply man­age­ment. The piece de­scribed it as sti­fling con­sumer choice and “back­door cor­po­rate wel­fare.”

The Fraser In­sti­tute has long beat the drum against keep­ing sup­ply man­age­ment, point­ing to higher costs for con­sumers. An opin­ion piece pub­lished in Ma­clean’s in Jan­uary from two rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Fraser In­sti­tute was en­ti­tled, “Why is Canada jeop­ar­diz­ing NAFTA to pro­tect 13,500 farm­ers?”

Dal­housie Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Dr. Syl­vain Charlebois has been quoted in mul­ti­ple me­dia re­ports in re­cent days on the fact Canada is the last coun­try with such a sys­tem — some­thing he said was es­tab­lished to sup­port food sovereignty, but does not re­flect Canada’s po­si­tion as a coun­try sup­port­ive of free trade.

Po­lit­i­cally in Canada, as shown in Bernier’s case, the tide has yet to turn. But that’s not to say sup­ply man­age­ment is with­out op­po­si­tion.

On the other hand, there have been chal­lenges to Amer­ica’s sub­si­dies for farm­ers, while Cana­dian farm­ers have pushed back, telling their sto­ries.

Que­bec’s agri­cul­ture fed­er­a­tion has iden­ti­fied sig­nif­i­cant costs if pro­tec­tions on dairy in par­tic­u­lar were to be re­moved, in­clud­ing ex­pected loss of the prov­ince’s fam­ily farms.

New­found­land and Labrador Fed­er­a­tion of Agri­cul­ture pres­i­dent Merv Wise­man says that, iron­i­cally, Que­bec has been a pro­tec­tor in a sense. New­found­land and Labrador’s agri­cul­tural sec­tor is less con­cern­ing po­lit­i­cally on the fed­eral level, but de­pen­dent on pro­tec­tion of in­come for chicken, egg and dairy farm­ers.

Prod­ucts cov­ered by sup­ply man­age­ment amount to about 75 per cent of agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion (by to­tal farm cash re­ceipts) in this prov­ince, ac­cord­ing to Sta­tis­tics Canada.

“If sup­ply man­age­ment were to disappear … we would suf­fer im­mensely in this prov­ince from a pro­duc­tion stand­point,” Wise­man said Wed­nes­day.

Apart from the liveli­hoods of farm­ers, he said there are im­pli­ca­tions for food self-suf­fi­ciency — some­thing the pro­vin­cial govern­ment has been tack­ling un­der the cur­rent Lib­eral lead­er­ship.

Pre­mier Dwight Ball was asked about any change to sup­ply man­age­ment in the new NAFTA.

“This is a bit of back and forth that we’re see­ing right now,” he said.

“We see dif­fer­ences of what the Cana­dian ne­go­tia­tors, their po­si­tion would be, and what the U.S. ne­go­tia­tors, their po­si­tion would be, or what Trump is say­ing, and there seems to be a lot of vari­ables and a lot of dif­fer­ences on how we vi­su­al­ize Cana­di­ans sup­ply man­age­ment and the im­pact Trump is say­ing that it’s hav­ing on farm­ers in the U.S.”

Ear­lier this year, the pro­vin­cial Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives — specif­i­cally long­time farmer and new MHA Jim Lester — flagged sup­ply man­age­ment in NAFTA as a con­cern.

“We need to stand to­gether and fight any ef­forts by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion or oth­ers to do away with the sup­ply man­age­ment sys­tem,” he said in a state­ment is­sued to the me­dia.

“With all sec­tors of the Cana­dian econ­omy in Amer­ica’s crosshairs, we have to en­sure our best in­ter­ests aren’t left on the side­lines or bartered away.”

As re­cently re­ported by The Chron­i­cle Herald, Cana­dian dairy farm­ers have been spooked by re­cent state­ments by Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau on the subject. The June 6 re­port noted Canada al­ready imports about five per cent of its cheese and five per cent of its but­ter from other na­tions, as part of World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion com­mit­ments. Through the Canada-Euro­pean Union free trade deal, Canada in­creased lo­cal ac­cess for Euro­pean cheese pro­duc­ers by another four per cent. The Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship agree­ment, it stated, saw ad­di­tional ac­cess equal to three per cent of Canada’s to­tal milk sup­ply.

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