At the onset of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, most indications are that it will likely help grow Canadian agriculture markets.
Coveted Asian markets like Japan will be obligated to provide preferential access for products from TPP signatories like Canada, and we will likely see more beef, pork, grains, oilseeds and pulses shipped into the region.
There are, of course, trade offs, as would be expected in any market access agreement.
Canada will have to allow imports representing roughly 3.25 percent of Canada’s annual dairy production, as well as 2.3 percent for eggs, 2.1 percent for chicken, two percent for turkey and 1.5 percent for hatching eggs.
These concessions may look small as percentages yet represent millions of dollars. As well, the TPP will undermine our supply management system to some degree, but there is little doubt that it could have been much worse.
Canadian supply management will survive this deal, albeit a little bruised, and a sizeable compensation package should help these industries adjust.
However, as in any trade deal, the devil is in the details, which we have yet to see.
Just because there is a trade agreement in place, it doesn’t mean there won’t be disputes or that our interests are protected.
Canada’s free trade agreement with South Korea came into force on Jan. 1 this year, but the country has refused to accept Canadian beef because of the BSE case that was confirmed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on Feb. 13.
It is clear that Canada does not have a BSE problem, yet the South Korean border remains closed to our beef exports.
Border closures based on food safety concerns are not subject to dispute settlement under the previous trade deal with South Korea.
What about in the TPP?
Will these new promised land markets be able to veil protectionist policies under supposed food safety issues?
Then there is internal politics in the United States, which the country-of-origin labelling dispute has demonstrated can cost Canadian agriculture industries millions of dollars, even though the law is a clear violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
When it comes to low level tolerances for genetically modified organisms, is there a standard that TPP signatories have to abide by, or can countries make it up as they go, which can also be a veiled protectionist policy?
How does the approval process look for new agricultural products for livestock and crops under the TPP? Can this process be used to undermine our market access?
In the TPP, new dairy imports let into the country will be subject to Canadian regulations, including phytosanitary rules and permissible livestock drugs. Among other things, that means Canada will keep its prohibition on the use of rBST and rBGH, bovine growth hormones commonly used to increase milk production in the U.S.
It is difficult to argue that there shouldn’t be some control on the safety of the goods being imported into any country. However, international agriculture trade can be a ruthless business, and food safety disputes will likely affect our market access with TPP countries, whether the concerns are legitimate or not.
Hopefully, when the details of the TPP deal are published, the dispute mechanisms in the agreement are clear and fair and Canadian agriculture industries will get a fair shot at the growing markets in the Pacific Rim.