Cheese importer weighs in on quotas

DRESDEN, Ont. — As a long-time cheese importer, Pat Pelliccione hopes to have a share of the in-crease in tariff-free cheese coming from the European Union.

More than 17 million kilograms will be allowed under the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the EU, to be phased in over six years.

Pelliccione said he thinks a decision as to who will receive the necessary TRQs (tariff rate quotas) is likely to be announced by June 1 or July 1, after hearings of the Canadian Senate are complete.

“I don’t know if we will get a kilo. I just hope government will give us something,” Pelliccione said.

“All signs are pointing to sooner rather than later for a decision.”

Others are looking for additional TRQs, he said, including processors, retailers and traditional importers like his own company. While it isn’t known who’ll receive them, 30 percent are to be distributed among new entrants to the trade.

The changes do not bode well for supply management and dairy farmers, Pelliccione said. However, CETA does open opportunities for Canadian beef and pork to head to Europe, he said.

Overweel handles Canadian cheeses, but only for distribution within Canada. Pelliccione said his company has given up trying to export Canadian cheese, as have most others.

While supply management does deliver benefits to farmers, it doesn’t lend itself to exports, he said. It’s a transparent system, susceptible to intervention by competing trading nations looking to block Canadian exports.

Part of the trade-off of having supply management and high TRQs on imported milk products was that Canadian dairy producers would supply milk only for domestic use.

However, that means Canadian cheese makers pay some of the highest prices for milk compared to world markets.

Pelliccione understands the need to support the Canadian dairy sector. He said most other countries do the same but are more subtle.

Pelliccione is president of Jan K. Overweel, a family-run business that’s been importing food products from Europe since 1947. He’s also the chair of the International Cheese Council of Canada.

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