Dairy leader gloomy on WTO progress

New director general | DFC president says countries are choosing regional and bilateral deals

As a longtime British Columbia dairy farmer, Wally Smith knows a thing or two about downer cows.

As a longtime executive player in Dairy Farmers of Canada, the DFC president also knows a thing or two about stalled World Trade Organization negotiations.

Oddly, he finds similarity between the two.

“I compare the WTO talks to a downer cow,” Smith said in a speech and later interview during the DFC’s recent annual meeting in Ottawa.

“You feed it, you look after it, you try to rehabilitate it and it is a drag on all your energy and resources.”

WTO talks and demands from many countries for across-the-board tariff cuts have been seen for years as the greatest threat to the supply management system, but Smith said the emphasis has changed to bilateral and regional trade negotiations, where access is also on the table.

“I think countries are voting with their feet (by emphasizing regional and bilateral deals),” he said.

“I think the plurilateral agreement model like the WTO is in some jeopardy.”

The 11-year-old Doha Round of negotiations, which is gearing up for a ministerial meeting in December, seems to be going nowhere.

Still, when ministers gather in Bali, Indonesia, in December, DFC will be there in case something happens. There will be a new director general and Canadian ministers will attend.

“I can’t predict if there will be progress,” he said.

“But where the minister goes, we like to shadow.”

Smith said ongoing discussions within the Canadian dairy industry about creating a national pool also fit the downer cow pattern.

He used his convention speech to advocate for more progress on folding regional pools into one because the industry needs national decision making when changes have to be made.

However, Smith said it is slow going.

“We’re not going anywhere fast,” he said in the later interview.

“We continue to have dialogue and my sense is there is a lot more pressure we have to acknowledge as an industry. If we are going to adapt to change, as I think we need to, there is more strength in a national system that is unified from coast to coast than having regional pools still trying to protect provincial sovereignty.”

He said existing divisions between regional pools leave the industry weaker than it need be.

“The more united we are, the stronger we’ll be.”

It is an issue that former DFC president Jacques Laforge championed for years and Smith has picked up the baton, although with little expectation of a quick solution.

“In some ways, we’re preceding with national pools discussions the same way that we are with the WTO.”

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