Supply-managed sectors, CWB rip WTO report

A report last week from the chair of the World Trade Organization’s agriculture negotiations committee yields nothing positive for Canada’s supply-managed farm sectors, nor the Canadian Wheat Board, those groups’ farmer spokesmen say.

The committee chairman, New Zealand’s WTO ambassador David Walker, on Thursday reported on consultations he’d undertaken on 10 categories of issues with the goal of helping WTO members build consensus toward broad outlines of the commitments they’re willing to make.

The most recent drafts of those outlines, or “modalities” in WTO-speak, still refer to “provisions that are detrimental to supply management in Canada,” Jacques Laforge, a New Brunswick dairyman and president of Dairy Farmers of Canada, said in a release Thursday.

For its part, the CWB’s board of directors is “not opposed to a WTO agreement that could provide benefits for western Canadian producers,” CWB chairman Allen Oberg said in a separate release Thursday.

“Unfortunately, in its current form, this deal contains very few tangible improvements for Prairie wheat farmers. Yet it asks for an extraordinary concession in the elimination of the CWB, which has never been shown to be trade-distorting.”

In his report Thursday, Walker wrote that he felt it useful to try and advance “technical understanding and framing of (the 10) issues in preparation for when decisions could be taken.”

Up to this point, though, WTO members “have not been in a position to substantively resolve matters nor is there any discernable progress on these issues that can be captured in text,” he wrote.

“Removal of language”

Thus, “the negotiating text for agriculture retains language that would remove the right of western Canadian farmers to determine the future of their grain-marketing structure,” the CWB said in its release.

“It instead allows for key grain competitors to dictate how Prairie farmers must market their grain, should this deal be concluded. The text spells out elimination of ‘the use of export monopoly powers’ of state trading enterprises, which specifically targets the CWB.”

“Canadian negotiators must require the removal of language targeting the CWB, as a condition for Canada accepting any new WTO agreement on agriculture,” said Oberg, a farmer from Forestburg, Alta.

“Canadian political leaders and negotiators have repeatedly stated that the future of the CWB single desk is a decision to be made in Canada. Steps must be taken to ensure that will remain the case.”

Furthermore, DFC’s Laforge said, “the draft provisions that we and the Canadian government opposed back in 2008 have still not been addressed. Canada’s opposition has not been acknowledged.

The cost to Canada’s dairy, poultry and egg sectors “would be well over $1 billion and this would negatively impact Canada’s economy in both rural and urban areas,” he said.

Walker’s report shows “nothing has changed with regards to the damage this would cause supply management,” Nova Scotia egg producer Peter Clarke, chairman of Egg Farmers of Canada, said in the same release.

“We are looking forward to the government ensuring there are no negative economic impacts to our farmers as a result of these negotiations.”

“Seeking flexibility”

Walker’s report, however, acknowledges Canada’s position on tariffs on imports of “sensitive” ag products.

Both Canada and Japan, he noted, “have declared themselves not to be in a position to agree” to draft modalities that would limit “developed country” members of the WTO to designate no more than four per cent of their tariff lines for “sensitive products.”

“Consultations confirm that Japan and Canada are still seeking flexibility to designate additional tariff lines under the ‘sensitive products’ category,” Walker wrote.

“It remains to be seen whether members are prepared to agree any further flexibility in designation of ‘sensitive products’… and, if so, what payment would be required for such designation.”

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