Its been said that almost everything grown in Canada, outside of maple syrup, can be produced elsewhere cheaper.
Whenever another round of trade discussions is announced by the World Trade Organization (WTO), travel agents across the country start smiling. They know from past history that dozens upon dozens of lobbyists, government officials and politicians from ag-related organizations will be making the trek to Geneva or some other exotic location. Many will do so more than once and many have done so for years, its almost like an annual migration. It is starting to look like a travel perk that comes with the job.
The whole premise of the exercise is that Canadian trade officials are not to be trusted at these discussions and need to be constantly monitored and corrected in order to meet the goals of the various vested interests. That situation is the Canadian government’s own fault, as it is in the habit of trying to please everybody by telling everyone that they support their trade position even if they are complete opposites.
Its all outrageous in the end, being all those travel expenses of high-flying officials are paid for by producers and taxpayers. Canada is believed to be the only country in the world that brings such a huge entourage to a trade discussion. It must seem amusing to trade delegations from other countries who bring no such baggage to WTO discussions.
Almost the same situation unfolded in the recent Copenhagen climate change discussions. The Canadian delegation arrives complete with lobbyists and officials from diverse environmental organizations, provincial politicians and even municipal mayors. As with the WTO discussions the official Canadian position gets undermined by the media grandstanding of those folks, all claiming of course that they know best and the official Canadian position is wrong. Only with Canada does this seem to happen. But I digress.
What also seems to arrive on schedule with WTO talks is the usual bashing of supply management and the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) by the usual cabal of organizations and even some provincial governments.
As we have come to expect some like minded think-tank or sympathetic academics coincidently release studies about how restrictive supply management makes our trade opportunities. Fortunately some trade groups like the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance have toned down the more outlandish rhetoric. Officials from that group used to claim that unless a trade deal was immediately signed, Canada’s world trade as we know it would collapse. That didn’t quite happen as far as I know.
Even bashing supply management has subsided a little. It would seem that beyond the Quebec-centric position of the federal government position on the issue, governments and even taxpayers are coming to the realization that the supply-managed commodities are the shining light of the agriculture economy and are without direct taxpayer subsidies. That would be in direct contrast to so-called free trade export commodities, that except for the occasional market spike, seem to be in perpetual price depression and are forever asking for taxpayer subsidies just to survive. Is there a message there?
The Canadian government is unfairly criticized for supporting supply management at the expense of export commodities. But that presupposes that export commodities given a wide-open, tariff-free, quota-free world marketplace would see instant profitability. That may well be wishful thinking given the cruel realities of world competition. Its been said that almost everything grown in Canada, outside of maple syrup, can be produced elsewhere cheaper. The only advantage Canadian ag commodity products have is when some weather disaster occurs elsewhere and a shortage develops.
One can only hope that there is another way to a trade position that helps everyone. Perhaps bilateral agreements are the way to go, the Canadian government has taken this route in a number of instances – but so have many other foreign governments.
What doesn’t make sense is to destroy the reliable profitability of supply managed products that provide 20 per cent of the national ag economy so that the remaining 80 per cent of the ag economy can chase elusive profitability on a highly competitive and unreliable world market. There is that old saying – be careful what you wish for you may just get it, although I prefer that more pointed Dutch saying: “Even if you accidently burn your butt, you still have to sit on the blisters!”