Dairy farmers are seeking assurances there would be no more access to Canada’s dairy market in a renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement — but Lawrence MacAulay, Canada’s minister of agriculture and agri-food, would not provide them.
“Because of the NAFTA negotiations going on, we have to be careful what we say publicly,” MacAulay said at the Dairy Farmers of Canada policy conference this week in Ottawa, after multiple questions on trade policy from farmers.
“I’ve been quite clear and publicly said what I thought about what they put on the table. What Americans put on the table is a non-starter,” he said.
The U.S. proposal on supply management was to dismantle the system over the next decade. The Liberal government has repeatedly supported the maintenance of supply management, but has not been willing to guarantee access to the Canadian dairy market will not be granted under a new NAFTA.
The current NAFTA does not include dairy products.
Dairy farmers pushed MacAulay on NAFTA because of U.S. threats and the recent agreement that Canada would join the Comprehensive Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
When the original Trans-Pacific Partnership was negotiated, the U.S. was also involved and were part of the 3.25 per cent access provided to Canada’s dairy market for TPP countries. The new agreement didn’t include the U.S., as President Donald Trump withdrew from the pact.
However, the 3.25 per cent access remains for CPTPP countries such as Australia and New Zealand, which previously would have had to share the 3.25 per cent with the U.S.
Thus, if there’s access to the Canadian dairy market negotiated under NAFTA, dairy farmers will lose more market share than they expected to the U.S. under CPTPP.
Ralph Dietrich, chair of Dairy Farmers of Ontario, told MacAulay he agreed with the minister’s remarks that dairy farming is a great industry and it has a bright future, “but the way for that to continue is to tell the U.S. to go through the CPTPP.”
MacAulay also refused to say if the government would have a program to help dairy farmers adjust to increased imports under CPTPP, as it did under the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the European Union and Canada.
MacAulay highlighted the $250 million for producers and $100 million for processors in the CETA adjustment fund. He said 500 projects have been approved worth $23.5 million.
There needs to be more industry consultation before a CPTPP adjustment program is created, MacAulay said.
“We will come up with a program that will make the dairy industry stronger than it has ever been. For me to just tell you that I’m going to have the solution right here and now, it would be totally inappropriate,” he said.
— John Greig is a field editor for Glacier FarmMedia based at Ailsa Craig, Ont. Follow him at @jgreig on Twitter.