ELECTION COMMENTARY June 15, 2004
(204) 724-0824 (cell)
This is the third in a series of five commentaries by Canadian farm leaders on agriculture issues in this federal election.
International trade and agriculture in this election
By Marvin Shauf, Second Vice President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture
In 2000 the Canadian exported $23.2 billion in agri-food products. That's six per cent of our overall exports. So when it comes to international trade, understandably Canadian agriculture has a big interest.
Today, in 2004, the list of international trade issues facing Canadian farmers is longer than ever. Export subsidies in the European Union and the United States are keeping the global playing field far from level. They continue to reduce the value of commodities by effectively putting them on sale, offering countries a special price to buy from them. Every other country must then compete with that price, beginning a downward spiral for prices. The trade damage to Canadian farmers numbers in the billions.
Market access issues are important to Canadian farmers because we export so much of our production. Tariffs damage the value of those markets. Despite losing yet another challenge against the Canadian Wheat Board, the U.S. still has punitive trade tariffs in place against Canadian wheat. The U.S. has also launched an unjustified trade action against Canadian pork.
Many markets remain closed to Canadian beef and live cattle, even though Canada has performed the necessary science to prove this country is not a high risk for BSE. This is just another way countries block access to their markets.
The window of opportunity for addressing these issues is open right now. Agriculture negotiations are at the centre of the Doha Round of World Trade Organization (WTO) talks. In Doha and Cancun the Canadian negotiating team presented a strong negotiating position, one supported by Canadian farmers. That position was based on three core principles: leveling the playing field by eliminating the disparities in the current WTO commitments and obligations; maintaining Canada's ability to operate orderly marketing systems, including supply management and the Canadian Wheat Board; and developing and implementing clear, enforceable trade rules that apply to all countries equally.
For Canadian farmers, a successful outcome to WTO talks will include elimination of all export subsidies, improved market access for Canadian agriculture exports, improved rules relative to domestic support, and a confirmation of Canada's right to maintain producer-run marketing bodies and central-desk selling agencies which do not distort international trade. Under no circumstances will farmers accept one commodity sector being sold out in order to benefit another.
Whichever party emerges successful at the end of this federal election, Canadian farmers expect their government to continue to hold to those principles in WTO negotiations. So naturally farmers want to hear the parties and their leaders commit to those principles now, during the election.
Canadian farmers produce some of the highest-quality, safest food in the world, and the world knows it. The world wants Canadian food products. In this election candidates must commit to supporting agriculture trade that allows us to take our food to the world and bring profitability to our farmers.
Founded in 1935 to provide Canada's farmers with a single voice in Ottawa, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture is the country's largest farmers' organization. Its members include provincial general farm organizations as well as national and inter-provincial commodity organizations from every province. Through its members, CFA represents over 200,000 Canadian farmers and farm families.