Bilateral deals keep Canada in the game

MOOSE JAW, Sask. – More two-party trade agreements between Canada and other countries suit the Canadian Wheat Board just fine.However Margaret Wiebe, director of strategic planning at the CWB, said that doesn’t mean a successful multilateral agreement, such as between World Trade Organization members, is undesirable.She said the board would like to see a WTO agreement but the negotiations are taking too long. Bilaterals offer ways to gain market access or maintain access to markets that competitors have.“Our competitors are very aggressively pursuing bilaterals with customers of Canadian grain,” she told the annual Farming For Profit conference.“We don’t want to be at a tariff disadvantage to another country because they have a bilateral in a country where we don’t.”Since the WTO was signed in 1995, the number of bilaterals worldwide has doubled to 300, she said.That’s because the WTO negotiations are so slow and countries don’t want to get left behind.Bilaterals are less complex and can be targeted. She applauded the Can-adian government’s efforts to sign such agreements.“I think we’re very pleased with the direction that the Conservatives have been moving,” she said. “They seem to have a very active trade agenda and we think that can only benefit western Canadian farmers.”The board has identified a few priority markets where bilaterals would solidify its markets.Wiebe said Morocco is a critical area, because it is one of the top five markets for Canadian durum. In 2008-2009, the board sold 520,000 tonnes to Morocco.Morocco also has a 10 year agreement with the United States.“They are five years into that agreement and we are already at about a $40 a tonne tariff disadvantage,” she said.If Canada doesn’t sign an agreement, and the Morocco-U.S. agreement goes for 10 years, Canada will be at an $110 per tonne disadvantage.“It would essentially price us out of the market,” Wiebe said.Another important market is the Association of South East Asian Nations, or ASEAN, and particularly the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.Wiebe said most of these countries have no tariff but they have the right to raise tariffs to 30 percent.Other countries are becoming active in these markets and Canada should solidify its position, she said.Wiebe added bilaterals are complementary to a WTO agreement.“Bilaterals sometimes allow you to touch on industry specific issues and dig down a little deeper than maybe you would be able to in multilateral negotiations,” she said.