Supply-managed sectors join call for trade “coherence”

A clutch of farm organizations from 66 countries, calling for allowance of greater “policy space” in global ag trade talks, now includes the groups representing Canada’s supply-managed dairy, egg and poultry farmers.

Groups including the Dairy Farmers of Canada, Chicken Farmers of Canada and Egg Farmers of Canada on Monday signed onto a joint declaration by the 66 groups endorsing what they’ve dubbed the “Call for Coherence” — just as Canada’s “dualistic” ag policy comes up for review at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“While recognizing the need for fair and equitable trade rules for those products traded on world markets, farm groups in Canada and around the world feel it is critical for governments to acknowledge the importance of food security and the unique role played by agriculture and food in trade agreements,” the Canadian groups said in a joint release.

International rules, when or if developed in the latest round of ag trade talks through the WTO, “must allow enough policy space for countries to meet their food security objectives.”

The declaration, which international farm group leaders adopted Monday in Brussels, calls on governments and parliaments to “recognize the specificity of agriculture in international trade negotiations.”

“We are questioning whether the approach of simply opening markets — giving no consideration whatsoever to non-trade issues and how these impact farmers who produce the world’s food — is really the best way forward,” Chicken Farmers of Canada chairman David Fuller, a Nova Scotia producer, said in the release.

“Better coherence is needed between any WTO agriculture agreement and those commitments WTO member states must observe in the international treaties they’ve already signed on issues such as poverty, hunger, climate change and biodiversity,” he said.

“Dualistic”

The ag groups’ call comes as Canada’s trade policies come up for review at the WTO in separate sessions on Monday and Wednesday. That review is to be based on separate trade reports by the Canadian government and by the WTO Secretariat.

“Since its last review in 2007, Canada has taken steps to further improve the productivity and competitiveness of its economy, including through unilateral trade liberalization,” the WTO Secretariat said in its report. “There are some exceptions to Canada’s generally open trade and investment regimes, notably in agriculture and cultural sectors.”

Specifically, the WTO report noted Canada “has a dualistic agricultural sector as a matter of policy” with several export-oriented ag sectors operating alongside “mainly inward-looking ‘supply-managed’ subsectors… which are shielded from market forces through tariff quotas…, export subsidies, production quotas, and other measures.”

As it stands, the WTO report said, the supply management system “remains a pillar of Canadian agricultural policy,” but “there is scope for reform of Canada’s highly protected dairy and other supply-managed subsectors to make them more market-oriented.”

For its part, the Canadian government said in its companion report that Canada “is seeking a more level international playing field through the elimination of all forms of export subsidies, the substantial reduction of trade-distorting domestic support, and real and significant improvements in market access for agriculture and agri-food producers and processors.”

Canada, the government said, “seeks an outcome that results in commercially significant liberalization (and) improved transparency in domestic regulatory regimes.”

“Balanced”

“Regulating agricultural markets has proven useful in many countries,” Quebec dairyman Marcel Groleau, vice-president of Dairy Farmers of Canada, said in the supply-managed groups’ release Monday. “It is widely accepted that regulations have a legitimate role in establishing standards to protect the environment, biodiversity and climate change.

“To have sustainability and stability on farms, we need better market co-ordination, because agriculture depends so much on nature, faces great market concentration in the food distribution chain, and excessive commodity market speculation.”

The signatory farm groups say they plan to press politicians to take into account several “basic principles” when negotiating international trade agreements. Among those, the Canadian groups noted, are the principle that trade rules “must allow for policy measures, including supply management, which promote stability of food supplies and prices.”

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