Free­land’s vic­tory lap, Trump’s win

Truro Daily News - - OPINION - Jim Vib­ert Jim Vib­ert grew up in Truro and is a Nova Sco­tian jour­nal­ist, writer and for­mer po­lit­i­cal and com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tant to gov­ern­ments of all stripes. He now keeps a close and crit­i­cal eye on pro­vin­cial and re­gional pow­ers.

Canada’s For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land came down east this week to take a bit of a vic­tory lap for cut­ting a new trade deal that the petu­lant pup in the White House ac­tu­ally gets to chalk up as a win.

There were Free­land sight­ings in Nova Sco­tia at Pic­tou County’s ex­pand­ing Miche­lin Tire plant and in Hackett’s Cove, out­side Hal­i­fax where home-grown suc­cess story Nau­tel is lo­cated. Both busi­nesses have sig­nif­i­cant U.S. ex­ports.

Ms. Free­land’s 90-minute drive be­tween those two stops would have taken her within view of sev­eral dairy farms she sold out to get a deal that Don­ald Trump will tout as a tan­gi­ble ex­pres­sion of his undy­ing love for the Amer­i­can farmer.

Yes, Canada needed an agree­ment with its big­gest trade part­ner, but it is galling that to pla­cate the Or­ange Ego an­other wound was in­flicted on ru­ral Canada and an­other piece of na­tional sovereignty was sur­ren­dered.

The eco­nomic re­al­ists tell us the glass is half full; that with­out rel­a­tively un­fet­tered ac­cess to the U.S. mar­ket, great chunks of the Cana­dian econ­omy would grind to a frozen halt; that giv­ing the Amer­i­can dairy in­dus­try ac­cess to about four per cent of the Cana­dian mar­ket was a rea­son­able price to pay; and that Ot­tawa will find a way to com­pen­sate Cana­dian dairy farm­ers for their losses.

First, let’s force that four per cent – or 3.6 per cent to be pre­cise – of Canada’s dairy sec­tor into a con­text that makes it real. It is equal to 100 per cent of the milk pro­duced by Nova Sco­tia’s 215 dairy farms plus all of Prince Ed­ward Is­land’s 165 dairy farms.

It’s also just the lat­est in­sult to one of the coun­try’s most stable and suc­cess­ful farm sec­tors. Var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional trade deals have col­lec­tively opened 18 per cent of Canada’s dairy mar­ket to for­eign com­pe­ti­tion.

And what’s wrong with that, ask the free trade purists and my­opic con­sumer ad­vo­cates. Not a thing, so long as you’re also will­ing to sac­ri­fice food se­cu­rity and don’t give a whit about the eco­nomic vi­a­bil­ity of ru­ral Canada.

Dairy farms are an eco­nomic main­stay in count­less small com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try. Cana­dian dairy farms are highly ef­fi­cient, mostly fam­ily-owned and op­er­ated busi­nesses that re­turn more than 80 per cent of their gross earn­ings to their lo­cal, ru­ral economies.

Sup­ply man­age­ment, much maligned by those who wor­ship at the al­tar of un­re­strained mar­ket forces, en­sures price sta­bil­ity and a fair re­turn for Cana­dian milk pro­duc­ers who, on av­er­age, milk fewer than 100 cows.

Con­trast Canada’s stable milk mar­ket and fam­ily dairy farms to the Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence, where a third of the milk is pro­duced by about one per cent of the farms – fac­tory farms milk­ing more than 2,000 cows.

A full third of Amer­i­can dairy farms – the fam­ily farms that Willie Nel­son’s been try­ing to save with Farm Aid con­certs since 1985 – teeter per­pet­u­ally on the brink of fi­nan­cial ruin and pro­duce a lit­tle more than one per cent of the milk for a land awash in the stuff.

Dairy farms are spread across Canada, roughly in pro­por­tion to the pop­u­la­tion, so the milk Cana­di­ans drink al­most cer­tainly came from a farm nearby. Two U.S. states – Wis­con­sin and Cal­i­for­nia – sup­ply more than a third of the dairy prod­ucts de­manded by all 50 states.

Al­most lost in the na­tional sigh of re­lief when we got a trade deal with Trump, was Canada’s sur­ren­der to U.S. de­mands that ex­ports of milk pro­tein con­cen­trates, skim milk pow­der and in­fant for­mula from Canada will be lim­ited, world­wide. Canada ceded to the U.S. its right to com­pete in­ter­na­tion­ally in those prod­ucts.

Sure, it was nice to have Ms. Free­land in the neigh­bour­hood for a few days. And yes, we are thank­ful for the Cana­dian jobs sal­vaged – pro­vided the agree­ment is rat­i­fied by Par­lia­ment and Congress – by the deal Trump calls USMCA (United States-mex­ico-canadaA­gree­ment) ap­par­ently forc­ing the rest of us to call it that too.

But, if you value things like a vi­able ru­ral econ­omy, the fam­ily farm, and a se­cure sup­ply of milk for the kids lo­cated just a few kilo­me­tres away, un­der­stand that this deal chips away at each of those frag­ile as­sets.

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