Agricultural exporters are fuming over the failings of the Canada-European Union trade deal, which has achieved virtually little for Canadian farmers.
Yet EU ag exporters have seen their food sales to Canada soar, unaffected by the vexatious measures Canadian exporters believe the EU imposes to prevent reciprocal access. The situation has a wide swath of trade interests demanding the federal government act.
“Something more has to be done. Their efforts to date have not been sufficient, clearly,” said Erin Gowriluk, the executive director of the Grain Growers of Canada, which represents most of Canada’s farmers of free market crops and livestock.
“Canada is going to have to begin to assert itself in the global marketplace. It’s going to have to do that through example.”
The third anniversary of the signing of the CETA (the Canada-EU deal born in 2017) brought positive and celebratory statements from both European and Canadian government officials, but agricultural exporters and those championing their cause saw the anniversary as a key moment to denounce the reality of the deal.
In the past three years every significant agricultural export from Canada — pork, beef, grains, oilseeds — has faced continued non-tariff barriers, and some have even been increased.
“It’s been three years. It’s been long enough,” said an exasperated Claire Citeau, the executive director of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance, which brings together most of Canada’s agriculture and food exporters, including the GGC.
“It’s time to now really do something about it because it’s an agreement that continues to hold so much promise for Canadian agri-food exporters, yet continues to fall short.”
Exporters say a combination of unreasonable EU regulations, obstruction by EU officials and rogue behaviour by EU member states such as Italy have stopped expected gains for Canadian farmers.
While there is annoyance with the EU over the perception of bad-faith trade relations with Canada from the exporters, their bone to pick today is with the federal government’s seeming disengagement from the situation.
“It lacks a sense of urgency,” said Gowriluk.
“This needs to be seen as an urgent issue that needs to be resolved.”
The exporters received a high-level vote of support from a non-partisan group of five premiers, who issued a strongly worded letter to federal ministers involved with trade and agriculture, and to the prime minister himself.
“We have held up our part of the bargain. The EU must do the same and be held accountable to its trade commitments,” says the letter, signed by former conservative premiers Jean Charest, Brad Wall and Ed Stelmach, former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne and former NDP premier Gary Doer.
“We believe you should raise these issues directly with EU leaders including the leaders of relevant EU member states…. Now more than ever, the EU needs to show its relevance in the global economy by championing the core issues that will help ensure the global economy recovers from one of the gravest economic threats the world has ever known.
“If the EU cannot implement and enforce agreements it has negotiated, its authority and credibility as a negotiating partner will be severely undermined. This is also true for Canada.”
Canada’s premiers were important players in the discussions leading up to the CETA. Charest, in particular, has played a key role in broadening trade ties between Canada and many places, including Europe and the eastern U.S. states below his home province of Quebec.
There is little proof that the EU is deliberately frustrating attempts of Canadian agricultural goods.
Yet in commodity after commodity, export hopes have been frustrated by various challenges.
Canola producers have been faced with nebulous “sustainability” standards that have practically stymied most food grade exports.
Beef and pork exports, expected to make major gains once CETA was approved, have stagnated, wrestling with an array of EU regulations that affect both on-farm production and slaughter plant operations in Canada.
Canadian crops face numerous challenges with almost-impossible-to-meet tolerances on some pesticides and other products, so that most trade is strangled.
Subsidized EU sugar makes Canadian foods including non-subsidized sugar prohibitively expensive.
And Italy has imposed country-of-origin labelling on Canadian durum, in defiance of the EU’s own laws, strangling access to its markets.
While each situation is unique, when put together they create among the exporters a perception that the EU has a goal of restricting market access in contravention of the CETA.
“The problem is not with the CETA itself but (with) the European Union’s refusal to solve the issues that will enable our trade and more trade for Canadian agri-food exporters,” said Citeau.
“The content (of CETA) is good… but today the EU is not abiding by commitments to remove technical barriers.”
The exporters said they were impressed by the Trudeau government’s resolute action in renegotiating a new NAFTA deal and sticking up for Canada’s exporters, despite heated words and actions from the U.S. administration. That’s the sort of approach it is demanding Canada take with the EU.
The premiers’ letter also praises the work done in renewing NAFTA, and calls upon the government to ensure CETA is respected, or risk jeopardizing Canada’s ability to trade even withnations with which it has deals. They want the issue raised at a high-profile gathering: the next G7 summit.
“The past few years have shown us just how harmful it is when trade agreements and rules are ignored or disavowed,” they said.
“We urge you to continue to stand up for Canada’s agri-food exporters by making sure these issues are at the top of the agenda when you meet with your EU counterparts and with the leaders of EU member states.”