Trade deals take centre stage

Industry applauds agreements | Bilateral deals are becoming more important, says minister

Canadian farmers and agribusin-esses as well as foreign players praised Canada’s aggressive trade deal campaign during the Canadian Global Crops Symposium.


Getting more and better deals was seen as key to allowing prairie farm production to expand without running out of demand, whether that’s through bilateral, regional or global agreements. 


“More direct access, more opportunity, it has to be a good thing,” said Canola Council of Canada chair Terry Youzwa.


Cereals Canada chair Greg Porozni agreed.


“I think any time that you can lower or eliminate trade barriers … is a good thing, especially for Canada because exports are so important.”


Federal international trade minister Ed Fast heralded the government’s commitment to trade deals, laying out the differences between current deals and explaining why country-to-country deals and regional deals are both necessary.


Fast said the new free trade deal with South Korea was defensively focused, attempting to regain market share that Canada began losing when the United States and other exporters achieved free trade deals first.


“We’ve seen our market erode in South Korea,” Fast said.


“We needed to play catch-up.… This agreement will level the playing field with our major competitors in this market.”


Fast said the free trade deal with Europe, also proposed but not yet finalized, was not driven by the same need. He said the intention there was to get access to a market now largely blocked to Canadians.


“It was an effort to take advantage of a huge opportunity,” he said about the European Union, which has a population of 500 million people.


“And that was to get a leg-up, first-mover advantage over the United States. We have achieved that.”


Cargill Inc. executive chair Greg Page said in an interview that Canada achieved a lot by getting its EU deal done before the U.S.


“I think having an agreement with the Europeans, who are seen as difficult counterparties, I think it’s a feather in the hat of Canada,” said Page.


“I think just being in the (news)paper and being seen as people that can make meaningful compromises that lead to an actual change in trade relationships, it just builds your brand as a country that’s open for business and willing to (work) with other people.”


Fast said Canada needs deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership, which is still being negotiated, because Canadian businesses become difficult for foreign partners to trade with if Canada’s competitors form a deal between themselves.


“The reason we want to engage in the regional context is because of supply chains,” said Fast.


“If we simply stick to a bilateral trade agenda, and others around the world are starting to put into place regional trade agreements that strengthen their own supply chains, Canada will be on the outside looking in.”


Fast said regional and bilateral deals are more important than ever because the World Trade Organization isn’t working well. Trade disputes can be successfully resolved, but it can take years.


“At the multilateral level … things have slowed down dramatically,” he said.


“Because that process is so slow, many countries in the world have now seen bilateral, regional and plural-lateral negotiations as the interim way forward until the WTO re-energizes.”


Pulse Canada chair Nick Sekulic supported the government’s attempt to reach more trade deals.


“We are obviously big supporters of approving any kind of free trade and bilateral trade agreements to level the playing field with other suppliers of our commodities into the market.”