Giving up the bird in the hand for the bird in the bush
Elbert van Donkersgoed advises on trade negotiations

Farm & Countryside Commentary by Elbert van Donkersgoed

Editor's NOTE

Elbert van Donkersgoed is the Strategic Policy Advisor of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, Canada. CFFO is supported by 4,500 family farmers across the province of Ontario.

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September 1 , 2005: Last week, Toronto Star columnist, David Crane, took a swipe at Canadian international trade negotiators. He accused them of forgetting the basic rule: “In any serious negotiation, you have to give to get.”

Crane based his accusation on Canada’s position in the World Trade Talks that seeks better trade access for grains and meats, while at the same time resisting making it easier for other countries to sell dairy and poultry products in Canada.

Crane assumes that the World Trade Organization talks are in a position to create better access for Canadian grains and meats in world markets.

But wait a minute…

A decade ago those same arguments were made by the urban columnists of the day about the Uruguay Round of trade talks. In that deal, Canada modified its support for dairy and poultry products and killed the Crow Rate, the transportation subsidy that moved grains off our prairies, cheaply. We gave. Did we get better access for grains and meats?

I haven’t seen any evidence that the Uruguay Round benefited Canadian grains and meats. But Canadian farmers, particularly in western Canada, changed their farm businesses as a result of the loss of the Crow Rate transportation subsidy. Today we market much of our grain inside cattle and pig skins.

Consider the turmoil in our international markets as a result of the discovery of mad cow disease in the Canadian cattle herd. Dramatically increasing Canadian slaughter capacity got the attention of Americans -- at least some of them are scrambling to normalize the beef trade with Canada. Did we turn to the World Trade Organization for help?

Consider the tension for Canadian pork producers throughout 2004 and much of 2005 as the Americans yet again accused them of dumping and subsidizing our exports. Could we look to the WTO for help? Persuading the U.S. to abandon their trade remedy laws isn’t even on the table.

Consider the ongoing softwood lumber dispute with our American neighbors. U.S. lumber barons will not be content until we let them buy our raw lumber and haul the logs into the U.S. for value-adding and job creation.

Canadian trade negotiators are smarter that Crane thinks. Unloading bulk undifferentiated commodities on the world market doesn’t do much for the Canadian economy.

There is an old saying: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Crane admits that supply management “provides a level of stability to a way of life that is subject very much to the vagaries of weather, disease and other factors. It has also provided Canadians with safe and high-quality products.” Canada’s trade negotiators should not be giving up the bird in the hand for the bird in the bush.


Read David Crane’s column at www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?



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