By Tim Kalinowski
Tom Koostra, chair of Alberta Milk, does not mince words when it comes to his feelings about the concessions Canadian negotiators made on dairy market access coming out of the USMCA agreement.
“I am not surprised there was an agreement on dairy, but I think it went one step too far,” he says. “Giving up market access was one thing, but the dismantling of Class 7, and oversight on how we manage our own domestic industry, and our potential to export a limited amount of dairy products elsewhere— that’s problematic … In my mind, the federal government has surrendered its sovereignty over trade negotiation, specifically Canadian dairy policy, to the administration in the USA.”
Koostra says not many Alberta dairy producers would vote for the Liberals anyway, but he predicts a consequence for them in selling Canadian dairy producers down the river in vote-rich Ontario and Quebec.
“The U.S. problem is one of over production,” he states bluntly. “And rather than challenge their producers to manage to what the market was, they just looked north and hoped we would take some more to take the pressure off them. But the average American dairy farmer isn’t going to see any appreciable improvement in his bottom line with this trade deal. It is going to impact the Canadian producers moreso … I recognize the Canadian government was in a tough position, but it is frustrating for us we seem to be the ones who have to give up the most in this trade deal.”
And it isn’t just the USMCA, says Koostra, it is the cumulative impact of dairy concessions in the USMCA, the CPTPP and CITA which has Canadian milk producers seeing red.
“We anticipate a market growth of two per cent annually,” explains Koostra. “Part of that is driven by population growth and the other by increased consumption of dairy products. If your market if only growing by two or three per cent, and under this agreement we are giving up 3.59 per cent— and under the CTPP we gave up 3.25 per cent. That’s just about seven per cent right there; so with those two numbers the growth in the market will not be filled by Canadian producers. So we are helping farmers from around the world, but we’re continuing to erode the potential market for Canadian producers.”
Koostra says the dairy industry is still weighing its options and waiting to see what comes of the promises the Canadian government has made for compensation, but it is a bitter pill to have to swallow all around.
“At this point, I am not clear what our options are going forward,” he admits. “Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland assure us there will be compensation before this trade agreement is implemented. But us dairy farmers were not looking for compensation, we were looking forward to produce to the Canadian market; so Canadian consumers can be supplied with Canadian homegrown dairy goods. That’s what we wanted.”