Ritz hints trade deal with Europe on horizon

Speculation is increasing that a Canadian trade deal with Europe could come as early as winter or spring, and agriculture minister Gerry Ritz says his sector will be a winner.

However, he refused to speculate Jan. 28 on when a deal will come after more than two years of negotiation.

He and trade minister Ed Fast were in Brussels late last year to begin the political negotiations to break the impasse on issues such as rules for Canadian livestock exports to Europe and access in Canada for European dairy products.

“There’s still tremendous good will to get this job done and certainly we want to do it sooner rather than later,” Ritz told a news conference. 

“I look at a huge overall benefit for agriculture.”

Canada estimates a deal could be worth $12 billion annually in increased export opportunity throughout the economy.

However, he said merely reaching an agreement will not bring fast benefits. Any deal will still have to be ratified by all 27 European Union countries and the Canadian Parliament as well all 10 affected provinces and three territories, he said.

Meanwhile, more than a decade of reforms to the EU’s farm policies appear to have turned the Common Agricultural Policy from an international policy pariah to a model to be emulated, at least as Canadian agricultural economists see it.

Last week during an Ottawa meeting of the Canadian Agricultural Economics Society, several speakers praised CAP reforms that have reduced subsidies based on production levels and brought European farm prices closer to world levels.

Former senior Agriculture Canada economist Doug Hedley said the EU has made reforms that give it significant leverage in current World Trade Organization talks.

“I think they have put themselves in good shape for (the) Doha (round),” he said.

Former chief Canadian WTO negotiator Mike Gifford concurred. He said many countries fixated on the costs and trade distorting aspects of CAP until the last WTO deal in 1993.

The EU has since made significant reforms, partly for budget reasons.

“In North America, we haven’t done anything close,” Gifford told the conference.