Negotiators Biggest Challenge Ahead: What Will TPP Mean for Dairy Farmers?

*Note: this post was originally written during the TPP negotiations in 2015. Much of the pressure and threat is still the same today, in 2018, as Canada renegotiates NAFTA with the U.S. and Mexico. 

Our Canadian Minister of International Trade, the Honourable Ed Fast, will join a delegation of negotiators early this week in Hawaii to hammer out what may be the final details of the biggest trade agreement in the world, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). 

For months now, the usual critics have been at work in the media, taking advantage of their national reach to report the same old opinions and rhetoric, some of which, barely deserve to grace the pages of the “Grey-Bruce This Week”, let alone national newspapers. Although the negotiations are private and confidential, several U.S. officials have also taken to the media in recent weeks to chastise and try to bully Canada into making concessions to our current dairy and poultry industry policies. For my family, as dairy farmers, these are interesting times. The dynamics of the dairy industry’s future could be hanging in the throes of this negotiation.

Us, and I expect many others like us, will be anxiously scanning Twitter feeds in the coming days and weeks, all the while going about the daily routine, which doesn’t stop regardless of what might be happening outside our barn doors. Cows will still need milked, calves will still need fed and barns will still need to be cleaned, all the while, weather will challenge us to bring a crop in for winter feed.

This isn’t a new threat and as persistent as it is today, we have been here before with NAFTA, WTO and GATT. When I was a child, I lined up friends to take me in when, overhearing my parents’ dinner conversation about free trade threatening the dairy industry, I thought these deals would mean losing our farm. The worst case scenarios we imagine today are not so far off from that of my 10-year old self, who equated the farm to my home and livelihood. Of course, I now apply a more calculated and realistic lens hoping we can avoid such ends if all might come to pass as threatened.

Am I worried TPP will spell the end of supply management in Canada? Not really. Nothing stays the same forever, and there is likely to be change ahead but I hope it will be by our industry’s own doing. I am also confident in the negotiating team representing us. Minister Fast has stated numerous times they will not strike a deal unless it is in Canadians’ interests and free trade deals with 44 countries are evidence agreements can be reached without conceding supply management. For this, I owe these folks some gratitude. If there is anything I believe today, it is that our current government is no pushover, and I hope they continue to both fiercely defend and fight for our interests.

A large dairy case is nearly full of imported cheese in this Canadian grocery store.

We are told Canada’s dairy industry is the agriculture keystone in these trade talks. If we concede, so too then must the U.S. allow more imports to Australian and New Zealand dairy products. Though there is much talk about the “closed” market in Canada, in reality we allow twice as much access to our dairy market today than the U.S. Will the U.S. reciprocate with equal access if concessions are granted? The long, drawn out process to repeal COOL (country-of-origin labelling) and the ever-generous farm bill lead me to question how fair any trade agreement involving agriculture is with the U.S. Even U.S. dairy producers maintain supply management enables a stable business environment, which is essential for young producers to establish themselves. At $18.9 billion in GDP contributions and $3.9 billion generated in taxes, the dairy industry is a significant contributor to the Canadian economy. This shouldn’t be overlooked and darn it, I’d say it’s worth putting up a little fight, especially if the immediate tradeoff might only be a fraction of this in gains.

Fight is exactly what I’ve asked my MP, the Minister of International Trade, the Minister of Agriculture and the Prime Minister to do this week. Fight for not just supply management, but all of our Canadian trade interests and show we will not be pushed around. To date, they’ve done a pretty fine job. Thank you and keep it up!

Note: if you care about this issue and haven’t done so, now is the time to make sure your voice is heard and you submit a letter to our elected officials. If you agree with what I’ve said above, feel free to copy and paste my letter into yours. August 29, 2018: Letter has been updated to reflect current NAFTA renegotiation. 

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