Alberta dairy backs no appeasement on supply management

Alberta dairy farmers seem largely unfazed by American demands for an end to the supply management system as negotiators from Canada, the United States and Mexico continue talks over reworking the North American Free Trade Agreement.

At Alberta Milk’s annual conference Nov. 22, producers learned from provincial officials that Canada is holding firm on supply management and Canadian negotiators won’t even speak to American negotiators about it.

“They (Canadian negotiators) are not going to engage it in any way,” said Peter Kuperis, director of the domestic and international trade policy section at Alberta Agriculture, during his presentation on trade. “They’re pretending it (this demand) doesn’t exist.”

Kuperis has been part of the NAFTA talks during the earlier rounds that were held in Washington, D.C., and Ottawa. He said Alberta has backed Ottawa’s steadfast approach.

“With NAFTA we’re holding our ground,” he said. ”It’s way too important to give into these outrageous demands.”

Dairy farmers at the event received that news with much delight.

“It’s been really reassuring, from the Canadian government and provincially, that they are 100 percent behind us,” said Jake Vermeer, who produces dairy and grain near Camrose, Alta. “A lot of the political attacks on supply management are a non-starter, so that’s huge for us.”

As well, he said while American demands were initially worrying, it’s been harder since for him to take those demands seriously.

Devon Simmelink, a dairy farmer near Rocky Mountain House, Alta., agreed. He said the dairy industry has faced these threats before from the U.S.

“It’s not a shock that they would want it gone,” he said. “I’ve spent some time in Wisconsin, and I think the push is really coming from the political higher-ups, not the farmers I’ve spoken with.”

However, the National Milk Producers Federation, a major U.S dairy lobby group, called for an end to Canada’s supply management system in September.

In the latest round of NAFTA discussions in Mexico City on Nov. 22, negotiators made no progress on resolving their differences.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to pull out of NAFTA has some worrying about the damage that might cause to Canadian exports, especially beef. Others suggest trade wouldn’t change immediately because both arms of the U.S. Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives, support NAFTA.

Most Canadian dairy farmers aren’t worried if the U.S. pulls out of NAFTA because virtually all dairy in Canada is produced by Canadian farmers because of the supply management system. As well, little, if any, is exported.

Simmelink said things won’t likely change quickly if NAFTA dies.

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