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Time to give on supply management: Chamber

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has gone public urging Ottawa to show some give in its protection of supply management at global trade talks.

The chamber — which bills itself as the “voice of Canadian business” and claims 170,000 members including businesses, business groups, boards of trade and other chambers of commerce — on Friday released a letter it wrote Wednesday to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, pressing him to “empower our officials with greater flexibility to negotiate” at upcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) talks.

Said talks resume the week of July 21 in Geneva, where WTO director general Pascal Lamy last week said the immediate challenge is to make progress that “will provide a basis for improved texts in agriculture and NAMA (non-agricultural market access).”

From where the chamber sits, that means Canada accepting over-quota tariff cuts and/or tariff quota expansion for “sensitive products,” which in Canada’s case includes its supply-managed dairy, poultry and egg sectors.

“Our refusal to be more flexible undermines the entire, fragile WTO negotiations,” the chamber said in its letter, signed by its CEO Perrin Beatty, a former cabinet minister in the Clark and Mulroney governments and former president of the CBC.

“It is simply untenable for Canada to refuse any reductions in our over-quota tariffs,” the chamber said, citing tariffs ranging from 237.5 per cent for yogurt and 238 per cent for eggs, to 265 per cent for ice cream and 298.5 per cent for butter.

“For example, it is not credible that a tariff reduction from 298.5 per cent to 295 per cent would put at risk the entire supply-managed sector,” Beatty wrote.

The chamber also noted the cost of Canada’s current tariff structure to Canadian consumers, citing a recent Montreal Economic Institute report that pegged the cost to a family of four at $300 per year, “with a cost to the consumers of Quebec alone at approximately $575 million annually.”

Furthermore, the chamber said, over 90 per cent of farmers across Canada, and at least 75 per cent of farmers in every province, depend on exports for their livelihoods. In Ontario, the group said, “every federal riding contains more export-oriented farmers than farmers in the supply-managed sector.

“The gains that these farmers will realize from a successful Doha round (of WTO talks), as well as the benefits that Canadian consumers in general will enjoy, far outweigh the costs of modified tariff charges to supply-managed commodities,” Beatty wrote.

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