SWIFT CURRENT, Sask. — Canada would meet with United States negotiators to continue North American Free Trade Agreement talks despite the political rhetoric surrounding them, a Canadian negotiator told the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association convention June 11.
Karen Hodgson, deputy director of trade negotiations at Agriculture Canada, said about a third of the chapters, including those dealing with agricultural issues such as phytosanitary measures, are complete.
Yet, the next steps are coloured by uncertainty given U.S. President Donald Trump’s twitter campaign against Canada’s supply-managed system for dairy, eggs and poultry. The federal government has repeatedly said it stands by the system.
Hodgson said negotiators are “ready and willing” to continue the talks.
“There still seems to be limited flexibility from the U.S. side even at the agriculture table but we are pushing through and continuing to have discussions there when we’re asked to meet,” she said.
Hodgson also said it appears unlikely a deal can be reached with the current U.S. Congress.
“We’re not reaching out proactively to the U.S.” to continue engaging, she said.
When asked if Canada has a back-up plan if talks fail, she said negotiators don’t assume they will but the government is exploring its options.
“The CUSTA (Canada-U.S. Trade Agreement) is currently suspended right now. It could come back into force.
“The U.S. government administration said this (past) weekend their preference would be to have bilateral FTAs (free trade agreements) with Canada and Mexico, and our message is still that we would prefer to stay within NAFTA.”
Hodgson was also asked why Canada stands firm in its support of supply management at the expense of other producers. Rancher Murray McGillivray said Canada shouldn’t be so obstinate if supply management is holding up progress in agricultural negotiation.
“I’m not saying abandoning them, but there must be some reduction if we’re going to keep trade with the United States under this present agreement,” he said.
Hodgson said only that there has been movement in other agreements, such as the Canada-European Union deal that allowed more cheese into Canada.
“At this point in the negotiations on NAFTA we have not entered into any market access discussions on supply-management products,” she said.
Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart said the province’s supply-managed producers represent just two percent of production.
“(They) know where our government stands and that is we’ll support supply management unless or until the other 98 percent is traded off for the two percent,” he told the meeting. “If there’s any considerations of doing that it could be the death knell for nationwide supply management.”