Canada’s dairy system must be defended

Supply management is targeted in TPP negotiations, but Canada has made several trade deals under the system and should not give in.  |  File photo

As I’m reading the media reports from the recent G20 agriculture ministers meeting in Turkey, I can’t help but think the United States is publicly bullying Canada on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and suggesting the dismantling of our supply management system.

The articles clearly indicate that agriculture minister Gerry Ritz is holding his ground. I thank you, minister, on behalf of all Canadian dairy farmers.

Minister Ritz, if you feel alone against the U.S., know that millions of Canadians, as well as more than 12,000 dairy farm families who contributed $18.9 billion to Canada’s gross domestic product, generated $3.6 billion in tax revenue and sustained 215,000 jobs in Canada in 2013, are proud of the system we built. If being Canadian means being different, so be it.

Ritz is not the only minister participating in the TPP talks.

International trade minister Ed Fast, who has been participating from the start, also has the country’s best interest at heart. He is not the agriculture minister, but he has many dairy farmers in his riding who have conveyed how changes to the dairy supply management system or the industry’s ability to generate economic wealth would ultimately hurt our economy, whether it be production, processing and related economic activity.

Ritz and Fast, along with prime minister Stephen Harper, are on record supporting and defending supply management, but pundits and observers are still heavily speculating on Canada’s position in the TPP trade negotiations.

Canada’s parliamentarians have repeatedly voted unanimously to support and defend our supply management system.

The government has strong grounds to stand on in front of the world. Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. can bad mouth our system if it makes them feel good and strong about their own system and redirects attention from their own sensitivities.

At the end of the day, supply management is still what is best for Canada and what allows Canadians to trust the products they buy and consume.

We understand the importance of trade agreements for Canada, and our government has concluded many without selling out what makes Canada, Canada. In fact, all trade agreements that Canada is a party to have been signed while maintaining supply management.

Our Canadian TPP negotiators should reflect on past experiences to guide them in the process.

Some may argue that sacrificing supply management to please international partners makes sense from a trade policy perspective, but let’s keep in mind the important facts: there is more to our country than trade. There is an industry at risk, jobs at risk and quality products at risk for all Canadians.

Our industry is targeted by TPP foreign negotiators, but we believe a deal can be shaped to meet the government’s objectives while supporting Canadian dairy farmers and our rural communities.

I am confident that Ritz and the Canadian government will continue to defend and support our system with no negative impact on the dairy industry, as in past trade negotiations.

Wally Smith is president of Dairy Farmers of Canada

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