TPP concerns hot topic at ag debate

by Alicia K. Gosselin
Press staff

AVONMORE – With the recent uproar surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), close to 100 residents filled the house during the Stormont, Dundas, and South Glengarry all-candidates agricultural debate Thurs., Oct. 1, with many concerns about how the global trade deal would affect dairy farmers.

The 12-country TPP – including Canada, the U.S., Japan, Mexico, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Peru, and Vietnam – is the largest trade deal ever proposed, and represents almost 40 per cent of the global economy.

Although the Canadian government has said it will keep the pillars of the supply management system intact, it has also agreed to allow more duty-free imports of dairy and poultry products in from TPP countries, which has local dairy farmers worried.

“Based on what we know about the TPP deal, which isn’t much, it looks like the Harper government could be putting the dairy farmers of SD&SG at risk, and this would have a huge impact on our local economy and local families,” said Liberal candidate Bernadette Clement. “A 10-per-cent concession could amount to a $2-billion loss in revenue annually for dairy farms.”

According to Conservative candidate and current MP Guy Lauzon, dairy farmers in the area should stand assured that supply management is part of their policy, and “has been protected each and every time” during trade talks. He noted that the global deal would be in the best interest of Canadians.

“Our Conservative government knows that agriculture and agri-food is the backbone of our economy… There’s no doubt in my mind that we will look after our dairy farms, and I’ll look every dairy farmer in the eye and I tell you we will do much better than any other choice you might have,” said Lauzon. “We have the best farmers, the best land, and now we are going to have the best market – agriculture is going to boom, I promise you that.”

Because the Harper government negotiated the agreement during the election campaign, if a new government takes over after Oct. 19, the agreement could be nullified. And that’s exactly the stance that NDP candidate Patrick Burger took during the debate.

“The current government actually doesn’t have the right to continue to negotiate a binding legislation,” said Burger. “Jean Chretien actually threw out a negotiation that Kim Campbell negotiated, and the NDP would do the same if we find that supply management hasn’t been defended.”

He noted that although the trade deal could open up a massive market, his focus was on “what’s sustainable in the long-term.” Burger also commented on how the Conservative government has already “betrayed” supply management due to milk protein products coming into the country without tariffs, which sparked a recent rally at Winchester’s Paramalat plant.

Green Party candidate Elaine Kennedy said that because the agreement sparked so many unanswered questions, her party would like to see a draft of the negotiation to “know we’re protected.”

The debate, hosted by the Stormont and Dundas Federations of Agriculture at North Stormont Place, attracted dairy farmers and rural community members from throughout the counties to get more information on the TPP, which is expected to be more significant for the economy than the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). It would open Canada’s economy to 800 million consumers.

South Stormont’s Deputy Mayor Tammy Hart, also a dairy farmer just outside of Finch, said she felt a little more settled after hearing what Lauzon had to say about protecting supply management.

“I’m going to trust my government…I know that the delays that have been taking place are because of the fact that this government does support supply management,” said Hart after the debate. “Just to hear [Lauzon] tonight reconfirm that statement settles me a little better as well, and I feel a little more confident. At the end of the day, you have to look at the whole picture.”

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