Revised, May 22 — Despite being told they’re “seeing black helicopters,” the federal opposition Liberals say Canada’s supply management systems for dairy, eggs and poultry still appear negotiable in coming free trade talks with the European Union.
“The evidence is clear. For the first time in the negotiation of bilateral trade agreements, this government has not taken supply management off the table,” Liberal agriculture critic Wayne Easter, a Prince Edward Island MP, said in a release Thursday.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), however, says Easter is “clearly out to lunch” with his claim. Dimitri Soudas on Friday rebutted with transcripts of a May 14 meeting of the Committee of the Whole, in which the House of Commons’ entire membership sits as a committee.
In those transcripts, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz is quoted as saying Canada’s negotiating position on supply management toward a free trade agreement (FTA) with the EU is the same as at World Trade Organization (WTO) talks toward a multilateral ag trade deal.
“Supply management is alive and well under this government and will continue to be, regardless of any free trade talks that go on,” as the EU FTA talks are expected to do over the next three to five years, Ritz said.
“We are in the preliminary stages. Supply management, for all intents and purposes, for this government is off the table.”
Responding to Ritz at the meeting, Quebec Liberal MP Denis Coderre is quoted as citing a Canada/EU joint report on the potential for an economic agreement, laying out the findings of a “scoping” exercise from before FTA talks began.
Coderre, in the transcript, quotes the report as saying the “scoping group” had agreed that a Canada/EU economic deal “should address the issues of agriculture export subsidies and state trading enterprises and assess any possible distortion of competition and barriers to trade and investment these issues could create.”
“Never at risk”
Ritz, quoted earlier in the meeting as saying Coderre is “seeing black helicopters,” replied that the EU is “notorious for some of its subsidies, which are as high as 600 to 700 per cent on certain commodities.”
Supply management, on the other hand, “was never at risk and never will be under this government,” Ritz said.
The FTA talks at this stage, he said, are “good, fulsome discussions, no different than we had around the table at the WTO.”
However, while not citing any specific committee meeting, Easter said in a Liberal release Thursday that “when asked repeatedly at committee, Minister Ritz dodged and refused to answer. If supply management is not off the table, then it’s on the table.”
“Minister Ritz’s refusal to confirm or deny any information on the subject is worrisome to our farmers,” MP Alexandra Mendes, the Liberals’ critic for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, said in the same release Thursday.
“Egg, poultry and dairy producers need a fairer, more stable market — and yet the Harper Conservatives are leaving the door open to dismantling Canada’s internationally acclaimed supply management system.”
The Conservatives have made clear their opposition to management in markets such as the Canadian Wheat Board’s single-desk marketing system for Prairie wheat and barley, but have previously stated support for the so-called “SM5” of supply-managed commodities.
Government MPs have previously voiced their opposition to any provisions in draft modalities texts at WTO talks that would “negatively affect” Canada’s dairy, turkey, table egg, broiler hatching egg or chicken marketing systems.
PMO spokesman Soudas on Friday said the Liberals’ statement Thursday again “demonstrates the Liberal Party of Canada doesn’t understand rural Canada (and) doesn’t understand farmers.”