16, 2005: Andy Mitchell, our federal Minister of
Agriculture and Agri-Food sent me a nicely done booklet in
the regular mail the other day. It was a short but thorough
update on the status of the World Trade Organization agricultural
negotiations. He titled his document: “Leveling the
International Playing Field for Canadians.” In it he
describes the framework on agriculture agreed to by WTO members
last July, as a milestone in the agricultural negotiations.
Any future agreement that prompts the Europeans to agree
to the total elimination of export subsidies and convinces
the Americans to consent to a substantial cut in domestic
subsidies that distort trade, will bring a sigh of relief
to many Canadian farmers who have been battling foreign government
budgets for decades to build export opportunities. For other
Canadian farmers there is a hitch. The framework is not limited
to new disciplines for domestic support and export competition.
Those same trading partners, the Americans and Europeans,
are demanding that we agree to new disciplines for the Canadian
Wheat Board to guarantee that it is a fair-trader. Just about
every government at the table wants better access to Canadian
markets. As a result Canada will face strong pressure in the
next stages of the talks to cut tariffs – cuts that
could undermine the right of farmers to choose orderly marketing
as the best way to produce for the domestic market.
Minister Mitchell should note several other trade milestones.
A bit more than five years ago, Canada’s agri-food
exports reached a milestone and turned a corner. Canadian
exporters sold as much value-added consumer-oriented food
products around the world as they sold bulk, undifferentiated
commodities. Since then, the export sale of bulk commodities
has been in decline, while value-added sales have roared ahead.
In 2003, about 55% of all Canadian agri-food exports were
consumer-oriented, compared to just 30% in 1991. Canadian
players in the trade negotiations are representatives of value-added
Our American neighbors are forecasted to reach a new milestone
in 2005. Their agri-food imports are climbing to match their
exports. Just 5 years ago the Americans had a $12 billion
surplus in agri-food trade. Their imports have multiplied
since the turn of the century from thirty-nine to a forecasted
fifty-six billion dollars. Their exports have plodded from
fifty-one to a forecasted fifty-six billion dollars. U.S.
negotiators will be coming to the next trade talks as net
While Minister Mitchell may be right to describe last July’s
framework agreement as a milestone in Canada’s relationship
with our trading partners, it is not the only milestone that
will shape a future trade deal.
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