Winnipeg | Reuters – Canada’s federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz lashed out at the U.S. for acting like a “schoolyard bully” on trade issues, and said he sees more promise in negotiating a bilateral deal with Japan than the more ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Ritz, in an interview with Reuters on Wednesday, also said it would take a “sea shift” for Canada to offer significantly more access to its protected dairy, egg and poultry industries.
The Conservative minister’s comments highlight growing challenges to completing the TPP deal, which aims to lower trade barriers in member countries.
In May, Japan said it would not abolish tariffs in five key agricultural sectors. Last week, U.S. dairy farmers threatened to oppose the pact if Japan and Canada did not agree to accept substantially more dairy imports. [Related story]
“I don’t entertain any such thing in the near future,” Ritz said of expanding such access. “I don’t see a win for us for doing that. Politically, it’s kryptonite.”
Canada agreed last year to expand its small quotas for European cheese imports, but Canadian dairy farmers in vote-rich eastern provinces strongly oppose weakening the system of production limits and import tariffs.
Canada’s sensitivity in those areas is no different than sugar and cotton for U.S. negotiators, Ritz said.
“If they want to throw mud, they should probably not be living in a glass house themselves.”
A spokesperson for U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman had no immediate comment.
The chances of TPP reaching an agreement look “50-50,” Ritz said.
Ritz said without U.S. congressional authority to sign any agreement and the fact some TPP countries are upset with the U.S., “a bilateral deal like we’ve got with Korea now, directly with Japan, is far better.”
Canada and the U.S. are locked in a bitter dispute over U.S. labels on food. The U.S. rule, which requires retailers such as grocery stores to list the country of origin on meat, has resulted in fewer Canadian pigs and cattle being exported to the U.S., according to the Canadian government.
“It’s hard to have respect for the stance the Americans are taking on TPP when you look in the rear view mirror and you’ve got (country-of-origin labeling) staring at you,” Ritz said.
Some trade analysts say U.S. negotiators are hampered by a lack of fast-track negotiating authority, which would give the White House the power to push trade deals through Congress without amendments. A bipartisan bill was introduced this year but is in limbo ahead of U.S. mid-term elections in November.
Meanwhile, Ritz will visit China next week. Canada is keen to expand beef exports to China, which currently accepts only Canadian boneless beef from cattle under 30 months of age. The immediate goal is to gain access for bone-in beef from the same cattle, Ritz said.
– Rod Nickel is a Reuters correspondent based in Winnipeg. Additional reporting for Reuters by Krista Hughes in Washington, D.C.