Don’t worry about NAFTA talks, dairy farmers told

The free trade deal is being renegotiated but Ottawa is vowing to resist any move to undercut supply management

Don’t worry, we have your back.

That was the message delivered behind closed doors to the nation’s dairy leaders at the recent annual general meeting of the Dairy Farmers of Canada.

The AGM was held just as Washington was releasing its negotiating objectives on talks to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement, which will begin in mid-August.

One of the U.S. objectives targets supply management, seeking to end “restrictive administration of tariff-rate quotas, other unjustified measures that unfairly limit access to markets to U.S. goods.”

But Ottawa’s support for supply management is unwavering, the dairy farmers were told by Jean-Claude Poissant, parliamentary secretary to Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay. The reassurance, delivered in a session closed to the press, was emphatic, said Alberta Milk’s general manager.

Mike Southwood.
photo: Supplied

“He was very clear about the support from the Liberal government for our industry through supply management,” said Mike Southwood.

And Canada has a strong case to make in the talks aimed at revamping the free trade deal, he said.

“A lot of it is just looking at the facts and making sure those are presented,” said Southwood. “There’s already a huge trade imbalance of dairy products coming into Canada from the United States. That gets lost in terms of what people perceive as opportunity.”

American exports of dairy ingredients to Canada exceed more than $550 million annually, and Canada only exports one-fifth of that amount to the U.S., he said.

Still, facts aren’t always foremost when it comes to the administration of President Donald Trump, who earlier this year called supply management “a disgrace.”

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“That creates some anxiety for sure,” said Southwood. “Although we have strong support from our federal government on the position we have.”

Negotiations are set to begin on Aug. 16.

“We would like to keep it as it is,” said Southwood. “And we’re hoping that with modernization, the federal government makes that clear. They’re hoping for a win-win-win. This isn’t just a debate between Canada and the U.S. — we have a significant partner in Mexico as well.”

Canada is the lone nation to have a supply-managed system, but “it works for Canadians,” he said.

“We produce a high-quality product for Canadians, we provide to the domestic market and we have clear evidence that Canadians support domestic supply of dairy products,” said Southwood.

And unlike other countries, including the U.S., Canada doesn’t have to subsidize its dairy industry, he said.

“Even Australia, which is supposedly one of the poster boys of dismantling supply management, has had to inject millions of dollars into its dairy industry to support it,” he said. “The argument that it costs consumers money is not supported either. We just get a fair return of the dollar that the consumer pays, right through the entire system. We don’t rely on any subsidies at all.”

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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