Canada says will defend dairy protection at TPP talks

(Scott Bauer photo courtesy ARS/USDA)

Ottawa | Reuters — Canada will continue to defend its system of tariffs and quotas that protect dairy farmers, a senior official said on Monday, in comments that could worry nations negotiating a Pacific trade treaty.

Canada is under pressure at talks to create a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) because concessions sought by the other 11 nations could cause trouble for the ruling Conservatives in this October’s general election.

All three major political parties in Canada support the so-called supply management system of protection for the dairy and poultry sectors. TPP nations such as New Zealand say the system needs to be dismantled while others want to see it reformed.

“(We) will continue to promote and defend the interests of our supply management sector as we promote and defend our agricultural industry more broadly speaking,” said Trade Minister Ed Fast when asked by an opposition legislator whether he would fully protect the system at the TPP talks.

“We did that with the negotiations (to create a recent free trade deal with the European Union), we will do that in our Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations,” he told a Parliamentary committee.

When Canada negotiated the EU trade treaty it gave away an extra 17,000 tonnes of cheese, less than four per cent of the overall Canadian market.

Last week U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Canada risked getting left behind in the TPP talks because it had been reluctant to negotiate opening its markets.

Canadian officials say they are waiting to see whether the U.S. Congress passes the proposed “fast track” legislation that would make it easier for President Barack Obama to win passage of the TPP.

Some Democratic lawmakers have resisted the fast-track legislation, which would require Congress to vote any agreement up or down without the chance of amending it. Opponents say the deal could hurt U.S. workers.

Last Friday Canadian Farm Minister Gerry Ritz said Vilsack was “proving that he is worth his weight in gold when it comes to deflecting away from the fact” that the administration has not yet assured the passage of fast track legislation.

David Ljunggren is Reuters’ national political correspondent in Ottawa.

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