CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — Canada’s agriculture ministers say they support expanded trade opportunities but not at the expense of supply management.
After their annual meeting, which was held in Charlottetown this week, the ministers said new markets such as those through the Trans-Pacific Partnership are critical to an exporting country like Canada.
But they also said they would continue “to preserve the integrity of the supply management system.”
Host minister Alan McIsaac said as far as he is concerned that means no changes to the existing system in order to get a TPP deal.
“We need to open up barriers but not at the expense of supply management,” he told a news conference. “It’s a tricky discussion.”
Federal minister Gerry Ritz called the situation a balancing act. He said Canada’s position is clear and negotiations would not take place in public.
The federal government has consistently said supply management will be protected even as it works to sign trade deals with countries that don’t like the system.
Some suggest the TPP could be signed by the end of this month. Stakeholders are off to Maui next week for discussions, and a ministerial meeting is scheduled for the week after that.
The ministers also discussed weather conditions affecting agricultural operations across the country.
Extremely dry conditions in parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan have led to concerns about feed availability for livestock producers. Alberta minister Oneil Carlier said crop insurance and other programs are in place as the first line of defence and said he is in constant communication with officials and industry leaders about the situation.
In P.E.I., potato tampering has become an issue of significant concern. Ritz called the acts “despicable” and “deplorable” and pledged to prosecute anyone caught tampering with food under the Safe Food for Canadians Act.
The law carries a fine of up to 18 months in prison and a maximum fine of $500,000 for a first offence.
“We look forward to them finding these scoundrels,” Ritz said.
Meanwhile, the ministers also met with industry leaders at a roundtable hosted by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, where they discussed social license and the need for the industry to rally together to counter activists and those who are working to break down public trust in the food system.
CFA president Ron Bonnett said the issue resulted in one of the best discussions ever with ministers.
“We’ve got to start fighting back,” he said in an interview.
Some consumer demands are unrealistic, Bonnett said, but there has to be a way to deal with the real concerns they have.
“There was definitely a commitment by ministers to have a more robust discussion amongst themselves,” he said.