Canadian Pork Council pulls out of CFA

Trade policy a sore point | Canadian Federation of Agriculture dominated by supply management agencies, general farm groups

The Canadian Pork Council has left the Canadian Federation of Agriculture after more than 40 years of affiliation, reducing the national farm organization to a narrower band of representation.

The pork council says trade protectionists dominate the national farm organization, while the pork industry lives on increased trade.

“We are unwilling to carry on any longer with what for us seems to be a perpetual and often lonely struggle dealing with policy proposals brought to the CFA table and committees, particularly on international trade, that are clearly contradictory to and compromising of our sector’s predominant interest in more liberalized trade,” CPC executive director Martin Rice wrote in the letter of withdrawal sent to CFA.

Once considered the national “house of agriculture” and still billing itself as Canada’s largest national farm organization, the CFA now represents no national commodity sectors beyond supply managed dairy, poultry and egg industries and Alberta’s sugar beet sector.

Major grain, cattle, hog, horticulture, pulse and oilseed national organizations do not belong.

CFA membership is dominated by supply management agencies and sometimes-weak general farm organizations across the country.

Quebec’s Union des Producteurs Agricoles and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture are its two strongest provincial members.

“We regret the decision, but I would argue it doesn’t diminish our ability to speak for all agriculture,” CFA president Ron Bonnett said.

“We try to represent all commodities in all parts of the country. I think the voice of a group that tries to reconcile all voices is as valuable as it always was.”

The perpetually cash-strapped CFA also loses the more than $70,000 that the council pays in annual membership fees.

In the letter of withdrawal, Rice said the CPC had no trade allies within CFA membership.

“It would have been much easier for CPC representatives to deal with if there were not significant existing gaps in coverage of key agricultural sectors in CFA’s current commodity organization membership, notably the national organizations representing beef cattle, grains and oilseeds producers.”

Broader representation of export-dependent sectors would encourage the CFA to take trade policy off the table, “thus avoiding this source of friction and disharmony between its members.”

Former CPC president Jurgen Preugschas was blunt, saying protectionist forces have taken over the CFA. He has been the pork council representative on the CFA board for the past five years.

He said the CFA insists on supporting a “balanced” policy that espouses both domestic protection and export expansion, rather than shying away from a policy position that divided its members.

“You can’t have a balanced trade policy,” said Preugschas. “There is no such thing. You are in favour of trade or you’re not and you can’t be both.”

He said his time on the CFA board was a constant struggle.

“We can’t be tied to a policy that virtually neuters what we are trying to work for,” he said.

“It is really unfortunate that it (the CFA) is being very much controlled by the (Quebec) UPA and the SM5 (supply management groups).”

Preugschas and Bonnett said the two groups will continue to work together on some issues, although the former CPC president said the group will also lobby in Ottawa on its own.

The CPC is a member of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance.

The two groups now divorcing have a long affiliation.

For several decades, the pork council contracted with CFA to have council administration done by a CFA employee.

Until several years ago, the council shared office space with the CFA.

Bonnett defended the CFA’s “balanced position” on trade issues.

“It is very close to the federal government’s own position,” he said.

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