Alta., Sask. urge export focus at WTO

The Saskatchewan and Alberta governments are asking Ottawa to take a “more progressive stance” on opening up market access for Canadian farmers at global trade talks.

Bob Bjornerud and George Groeneveld, the two provinces’ respective ag ministers, on Wednesday jointly urged the federal government and the other provinces to support a World Trade Organization position that “advances market access for the entire agriculture and agri-food industry across Canada.”

The two Prairie provinces’ governments said they “remain opposed to Canada’s current negotiating position, which does not take full advantage of the growth opportunities presented by a WTO agreement.”

Their statement comes five days after Laurent Lessard and Leona Dombrowsky, the ag ministers for Quebec and Ontario respectively, urged Canada’s WTO negotiators to “obtain the necessary flexibilities to safeguard supply management.”

Lessard and Dombrowsky’s statement followed the May 19 release of a new draft modalities text at WTO negotiations in Geneva. Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said at the time that the text was disappointing in that it offered no progress on protection for “sensitive products.”

Ontario and Quebec issued a similar joint statement after the release of the previous draft text in February.

In Canada’s case, “sensitive products” refers to its five domestic supply-managed dairy, poultry and egg sectors (SM5).

Ritz had assured the SM5 in a May 20 statement that Canada still “firmly opposes proposals for any over quota tariff cuts or tariff quota expansion for sensitive products” that would allow imported dairy, eggs or poultry to enter Canada at reduced tariff rates.

Ritz had also said the new draft text offered much for farmers who produce for export rather than domestic markets, in that it “continues to move toward an aggressive tariff reduction formula; substantial cuts to and strengthened disciplines on trade-distorting domestic support; and the elimination of all forms of export subsidies.”

“Grave mistake”

However, Bjornerud warned Wednesday “an inflexible stance that sacrifices opportunities for the majority of the agriculture industry would be a grave mistake.”

“As a top exporting nation, it is critical that Canada pursues an ambitious agreement that delivers a commercially meaningful outcome and substantially improves market access,” Groeneveld said.

Both Prairie provinces said they found WTO ag negotiating chairman Crawford Falconer’s May 19 draft text to be “an important step in bringing the negotiations to a successful conclusion.”

Alberta, Saskatchewan “and the majority of Canada’s agriculture and agri-food industry remain concerned that the interests of Canada’s export-oriented industries are at risk if Canada does not take a more progressive stance on opening trade relationships,” the two provinces said.

The two ag ministers said 92 per cent of Canada’s farmers are directly or indirectly dependent on exports, which provide nearly 80 per cent of Canada’s annual farm gate receipts, a share worth about $25 billion. A strong WTO ag agreement could boost that by $3 billion per year, they said.

Furthermore, “failure to achieve a substantial agreement on agriculture in a timely fashion could have serious implications in other areas of the WTO negotiations, where Canada has significant interests,” they wrote.

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