By Tim Kalinowski, Staff Writer
The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) represents about two dozen member organizations from coast to coast, and numerous other affiliated organizations related to the agriculture sector nationwide. Early this year the CFA came out strongly in favour of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement which brings twelve nations, (including Canada, the United States, Japan and Australia), together in a new Pacific Rim preferred trading zone. According to CFA president Ron Bonnett the deal has a huge upside for Canadian agriculture as a whole.
“By and large this deal creates more opportunities for Canadian agriculture than risks,” says Bonnett. “By signing this deal it puts us on level equal to some of our major partners like the United States and Japan. If we are going to be competitive we need to be part of the deals that are signed. I know there is a lot of concern on the side of supply management about how vulnerable they would be. There is limited market access now for countries wanting to ship milk, chicken or eggs into Canada; however, I think the negotiators did a reasonable job of trying to keep the damage to a minimum.”
Bonnett acknowledges he has heard concerns expressed about the TPP on the supply management side of things from three of its member organizations: The Dairy, Chicken and Egg Farmers of Canada. Bonnett says more definitely should be done on that side of the equation to ensure those sectors of Canadian agriculture aren’t losing out in the end.
“If you ask individual farmers (in those sectors) I think they are very worried about the uncertainty surrounding the deal. We need to be looking for any opportunities for market development that would take Canadian dairy products, for example. And the final thing is there is going to have to be a discussion about what takes place in terms of mitigation (of losses from the deal). The Conservative government did discuss a package which was designed to offset any negative results. I know the Liberal government is also considering that now.”
According to Bonnett the indications he is getting seem to confirm the new Liberal government will ratify the deal in the end.
“They are saying they know Canada has to be part of a trade deal this big,” states Bonnett. “They’re still talking about doing some consultation so they know what the impact is. I think, at the end of the day, they are going to sign on. At this point there are not going to be any changes in the deal after all the negotiations that went into it. If any country started demanding changes the whole thing would fall apart.”
Bonnett says those with doubts about the deal should consider one other thought as well.
“I think the biggest thing is, we have got to recognize that Canada is an exporting country. A lot of our commodities, about 60 per cent, are exported: The grains, pulses, pork and beef are examples of commodities that are heavily dependent on the export market. Japan is one of our preferred markets for export products going out of this country. They are a high value and dependable market. If we were not part of the TPP, and Japan was, we would be put at a competitive disadvantage to countries like Australia, New Zealand and the United States.”
He acknowledges signing the TPP is not the final step in the process; merely the beginning. Canada has to find ways to make the deal work for itself going forward.
“Canada has established itself on the world market as being fairly competitive player on our key commodities. For example, we are the largest exporter of pulses in the world. So I think we have some opportunities we can capitalize on, but we can’t just sit back and take it for granted that with the trade deal signed we’ll get access,” says Bonnett.
“The next step we have to take is now that the deals are open, how do we actually get that market? And that means making sure our regulations line up with what the regulations are in the countries we export to. Make sure we develop the relationships with those countries so that we can build the linkages to export into those countries. And also make sure Canada is ready to meet the requirements of the market— like on-time delivery of a high quality product.”
Despite the fact there is some uncertainty in how the TPP will impact imports coming into the Canadian market, and how the TPP will react against other bilateral and free trade deals Canada has already signed, Bonnett re-emphasizes the great potential of the TPP and the impending European Union Free Trade deal to expand Canadian agriculture export markets.
“I think the TPP creates opportunities for Canadian agriculture,” confirms Bonnett. “I think we (as a country) have tried to reduce the risk on supply management as much as possible. What we have to do is really take a look now at how do we turn this trade agreement into real market access.”