Supply management bill receives cold reception

Bloc Quebecois MP introduces a private member’s bill that would make concessions in future trade negotiations illegal

A private member’s bill that would make it illegal to include supply management concessions in future trade deals has received second reading in Parliament and attracted attention outside the House.

The Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance released a letter to the prime minister and opposition leaders asking them not to support the bill, even though all parties say they support supply managed sectors.

The Consumer Choice Centre said if the bill were to pass it would “be a huge blow” for consumers who pay too much for groceries.

Bloc Quebecois MP Louis Plamondon, who introduced Bill C-216, said supply managed sectors have not been fully protected in recent trade deals despite commitments from the Conservative and Liberal governments to do so.

He said the deals with the European Union, Asia-Pacific and United States and Mexico were “catastrophic” for producers who saw their revenues drop more than 8.4 percent.

He pointed to a 2005 motion from a former BQ member that passed unanimously. It said that trade negotiators at the World Trade Organization have a mandate “so that, at the end of the current round of negotiations, Canada obtains results that ensure that the supply management sectors are subject to no reduction in over-quota tariffs and no increase in tariff quotas, so that these sectors can continue to provide producers with a fair and equitable income.”

Plamondon said the BQ wants to take it a step further now because governments have ignored that commitment.

“We want protection of supply management inserted in a statute so that it is given force of law,” he said during debate.

Plamondon said Canada is currently negotiating with Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela and Bolivia and he urged passage of his bill before these agreements are concluded.

However, CAFTA president Dan Darling said legislating the exclusion of products from a negotiation would irritate trading relationships.

He said Bill C-216 as proposed contradicts trade rules and ties negotiators’ hands before they start.

“Put simply, this would be detrimental to our ability to generate growth and support about a million jobs across Canada,” he said in the letter.

As well, this type of legislation might encourage others to do the same, and this would lead to “less ambitious and less commercially meaningful outcomes across all economic sectors.”

During debate, Conservative MP Bernard Genereux reminded Plamondon that the previous Conservative government promised compensation for dairy farmers and that the Liberals had agreed to the same but were very slow to fulfill that promise.

Manitoba NDP MP Daniel Blaikie said he was curious to see if the new deal with the United Kingdom would negatively affect dairy producers.

Plamondon said the minister has said supply management is not affected, but he has his doubts.

“A little piece of supply management is always affected,” he said.

Liberal MP Kody Blois, who is rural caucus chair, challenged the Consumers Choice Centre notion that retail prices would drop if supply management was eliminated. He noted that prices in New Zealand rose after that country deregulated milk production.

Blois said other countries have programs, such as the dairy margin protection program in the U.S. and the Common Agricultural Policy in Europe, which help their producers in different ways.

He said it’s a myth that Canada’s system isn’t competitive because it “is based on a model that only allows 70 percent of farmers to break even after their costs of capital are considered.”

Former Conservative party agriculture critic Luc Berthold said his party has clearly committed to no further concessions in trade deals. He said while Bill C-216 sets out to protect supply-managed farms, it could do the opposite.

“If this bill passes, we can be sure that potential trade partners will target supply management right off the bat and counter with their own protectionist measures,” he said.

“We do not believe that Bill C-216 is a good bill to protect supply management and Canadian producers.”

Blaikie, on the other hand, supported the bill, saying supply management can’t be defended if it is ignored.

Second-reading debate resumes on or after Dec. 9.

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