By Connor Lynch
OTTAWA — Canada’s farm industries are speaking at cross-purposes when it comes to international trade agreements.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, an 11-member deal being brokered between Canada and 10 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, was due to be finalized last month. The deal has since been thrown into turmoil after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not show up at the meeting to sign the deal.
What’s going on? Here’s a quick timeline.
January 2017: The trade deal was pronounced dead after U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the U.S., the single largest economy in the trade pact, would be pulling out, fulfilling a campaign promise.
January: The remaining 11 nations tried to salvage the deal. Within days of Trump’s announcement, Australia, Singapore, and New Zealand met to see if the deal could be saved. For Ontario’s pork, beef, and grain industries, TPP meant access to new export markets and opportunities for growth. All three endorsed the TPP. Canada’s dairy sector did not, arguing that market access concessions promised in the original deal needed to be “recalibrated,” since the U.S. had left.
May 20-21: Trade ministers from 11 countries met in Vietnam to see if the deal could be saved.
May 27: How much influence could the dairy sector have on the negotiations? Consider that Canada’s dairy lobby was the kingmaker in the Conservative leadership race. New leader Andrew Scheer, who promised to protect supply management, acknowledged that the dairy lobby gave him the win in a tight race against the favourite, Maxime Bernier, who publicly campaigned to end the quota system.
Nov. 6: Fractures in the deal started to appear. Just days before the deal was to be signed on Nov. 10, the Canadian Press reported that the Canadian government had four outstanding issues with the trade pact and that included supply management.
Nov. 7: The Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance issued a release telling the government not to mess with the deal. “We have a small window of opportunity. Demanding changes to the market access provisions could jeopardize the entire agreement,” said Brian Innes, CAFTA president.
Nov. 9: Japanese news media reported that an agreement in principle had been reached, a claim flatly refuted by international trade minister Francois-Phillipe Champagne.
Nov. 10: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not appear at the meeting to seal the deal. Australian media blasted him for it, accusing Canada of “sabotaging” the entire deal. Trudeau later said that Canada was “holding out for a better deal.”
Nov. 11: The Dairy Farmers of Canada president Pierre Lampron said he was both pleased and disappointed. “While Dairy Farmers of Canada was pleased to see the Prime Minister hold firm for a better deal, we are disappointed that market access concessions on agriculture were not mentioned amongst the outstanding issues.” Concessions were promised in the original deal that allowed a 3.25 per cent market access to the Canadian dairy market, a move that the Dairy Farmers of Canada at the time called disappointing, but fair. But after the U.S. announced it was out, the DFC said those concessions needed to be “recalibrated.”
Nov. 11: The Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance said it was pleased that the dairy access concessions had been left alone.
Nov. 13: Founder of RealAgriculture.com Shaun Haney wrote a column on the fallout. “No NAFTA? No problem for the Canadian dairy farmer. The same could be said for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
Nov. 13: Some grassroots farmers are following the negotiations closely. In response to Haney’s column, Albertan dairy, cash crop, and beef farmer, Jeff Nonay said that agriculture as an industry needs to be united on the international trade front. “Frankly, the idea of trading off one sector to favour another is just as unpalatable as a notion to trade off (the) automotive (industry) for pipelines,” Nonay said, adding that “agriculture needs to unite, not divide. We all need to play the long game, as I believe we are going to need to find a common voice.”
Nov. 23: Writing in the National Post, columnist John Robson questions Canada’s overall economic policy. Mystified by our prime minister’s behaviour, Robson writes: “After throwing a monkey wrench in negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership with mostly friendly nations and putting a long list of implausible (politically-correct) demands on the NAFTA table, Justin Trudeau is very keen to sign a deal with good old Red China. And here his naivete is dangerous.”
Robson calls China a strategic menace with an economy that is an instrument of state power, spouting constant lies, runaway pollution and repression of its enemies. Robson wonders what is Trudeau thinking. “What does he think about China’s misconduct abroad and at home, its economic fragility, repression and ham-fasted aggression? Does he think about it at all?”