Canada officially set in place a trade agreement with the European Union (EU) at a summit in September and since then, there have been many mixed reactions across the province.
Within Canada’s agricultural industry, it seems dairy operations could be the most heavily impacted by the EU-Canada trade agreement (CETA).
Cherylynn Bos, co-owner of the Rock Ridge Dairy Farm, located near the south end of Ponoka County, has created the largest goat milk farm and processing operation in Alberta, with the help of international practices and she says there could be concern, depending on how the trade agreement affects Canada’s dairy, specifically cheese, market.
“The deal, they’re (federal government) going to allow 18,500 more tons of European cheese into Canada, tariff free,” said Bos.
This will increase the tonnage from approximately 21,000 to 39,000 and allow Europe access to 9 per cent of the Canadian market, up from five per cent.
Europe will also have guaranteed exclusive access to 32 per cent of Canada’s fine “artisan” cheese market.
“They’re mostly going to be importing fine cheese,” guessed Bos.
“As for artisan producers, the Canadian fine cheese market and its producers will be most affected by this,” she added.
Canadians spend approximately 11.5 per cent of their disposable income on food products and 1.07 per cent of that on dairy products.
“The unknown with this is will the market expand, will Canadians eat more cheese . . . or will it simply replace the Canadian percentage consumed in the market?” Bos asked.
If the market does not grow, she feels there would be a negative impact on cheese producers, then farms and then the local economy, as the sales would not be keeping the money spent in the vicinity. “Your dollars are gone from the community, that’s never a good thing.”
“The other thing about the agreement is it’s also opened up for us, unlimited access to the EU cheese market,” said Bos.
However, she does not believe this is as good of an opportunity as the federal government is making it out to be.
In Canada cheese and dairy costs are higher than in Europe, which will mark up the final product. “So to open the Europe market, that’s great . . . but who’s going to buy them when our product is so much more expensive?” Bos pondered.
“Will this (CETA) truly affect us? It’s hard to say,” she added.
She feels only time will tell if Canada’s market and system will be able to withstand and flourish in a more diverse market.
“For the overall good of the country I think it was an ok thing . . . I’m sure they benefited in other areas at the expense of this one,” said Bos.
Mark Matejka, who runs a cattle operation in Ponoka County, does not feel the same concerns as Bos. “I think it’s positive in the livestock industry because it opens up a new market.”
However, Canadian cattle producers also face limitations with the European market, as there are standards and other practices that need to be met.
“I think with any export and free trade agreement there will be winners and losers,” said Matejka, meaning some strains of the agricultural industry will benefit more than others.
He feels it will be difficult to tell how the cattle industry and Canada as a whole will be affected until trading and importing is in full effect.
Ponoka County grain farmer Bryce Liddle also sees CETA as a positive. “It’s never a bad thing to open up more markets.”
“You can never please everybody,” said Liddle. “I’m not worried about anything myself.”
Documents given to Ponoka News from Wetaskiwin MP Blaine Calkins’ office detailed many of the benefits expected as an outcome of CETA.
One of the benefits mentioned was new jobs created across the country because it will open new markets.
“CETA is a 21-centuary, gold-standard agreement and is Canada’s most ambitious trade initiative ever,” stated the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada document.
Canada has cultural and historical ties with the EU and the Federal Government states it is the largest importer of goods worldwide.
“Reducing and eliminating tariffs and non-tariff barriers will make Canadian goods, technologies and expertise more competitive in the lucrative EU market,” the article states. “Under CETA, world-class Canadian products will enjoy preferential access to the EU.”
“When CETA comes into force, almost 94 per cent of the EU agricultural tariff likes will be duty-free,” the document continued.
Alberta is the EUs largest export destination and the Canadian Government says this will allow the province to significantly benefit from the trade agreement.
National Farmers Union president Jan Slomp is less than impressed with the trade agreement. He feels the negotiations and procedures behind the agreement were done out of turn and in secret.
He also believes CETA will negatively impact Canada’s agricultural industry in the years to come; corporations will gain new power through CETA while local institutions such as municipal governments will no longer be encouraged to adopt policies valuing local purchasing.
According to Slomp there is no gain in sight for Canadian farmers as a result of CETA.
The European Commission website states the full effects of the agreement could take many years to be felt.