MacAulay vows to defend NAFTA at ag ministers meeting

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Canada’s agriculture ministers are gathered here to hammer out the next policy framework and discuss other sector concerns such as the impending NAFTA renegotiations.

The U.S. released its list of negotiating priorities earlier this week and the first round of talks is scheduled to begin Aug. 16.

Wheat, dairy and wine are all on that list.

Federal minister Lawrence MacAulay yesterday said the government will stand by all its farmers throughout the talks.

“I’m not the official trade negotiator,” he said at a news conference announcing money for a Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Agriculture project. “But without a doubt we will make sure that we have capable trade negotiators in agriculture and in the trade department who will handle these issues very capably.”

MacAulay said the federal government has been clear in its support for the supply management system for dairy, poultry and eggs.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture, also here for its summer board meeting, discussed NAFTA as well.

President Ron Bonnett said the board met with American Farm Bureau vice-president Scott Vanderwal, and both organizations agreed any agricultural negotiations should proceed on a “do no harm” basis while working toward regulatory harmonization.

“Things are actually working pretty good,” he said.

Second vice-president Marcel Groleau, a Quebec dairy farmer, said Canada’s dairy farmers know the sector will be targeted, but he pointed out that the U.S protects commodities like sugar and peanuts.

He said Canada imports eight percent of its dairy consumption while the U.S. imports less than two percent.

“So, our market is not totally closed,” he said, adding that the U.S knows its issue with surplus milk won’t be solved by access to the Canadian market.

Most of the provincial ministers attended the CFA-hosted roundtable yesterday at the conclusion of the board meeting.

British Columbia’s new minister, Lana Popham, was just sworn in Tuesday and did not attend, and neither did New Brunswick minister Rick Doucet. Saskatchewan minister Lyle Stewart is at the meeting but skipped the roundtable. All three sent officials.

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