The Trans-Pacific Partnership is not the first trade agreement that dairy farmer Jack McLeod has seen negotiated, but it is perhaps the most frightening.
“It’s definitely a very scary time for family farms. The pressure right now is stronger than I can ever remember… It’s pretty intense right now,” he says.
The TPP, as it’s called, is now being negotiated on Maui, Hawaii by politicians trying to establish a basis for trade among the 12 Pacific Rim countries at the table, as well as others like India, China and the Philippines who may join later.
“My understanding at this point is the United States, especially, and, to a lesser extent, New Zealand, are threatening to kick Canada out of the negotiations and agreement unless they give up supply management and open up the dairy industry…” says McLeod.
Also targeted under the supply management banner are poultry and eggs.
Canada’s supply management system in the dairy industry means farmers buy a quota to operate, so the number of producers is controlled and, in turn, farmers and processors get a predictable return.
“In a way it’s good for the consumers as the price of milk is very stable,” McLeod adds.
He notes that Canadian dairy farmers receive no direct taxpayer support, while in the U.S. dairy farmers get direct subsidies from taxpayers.
McLeod says a small farm like his cannot deliver milk at a world price.
“The world market is almost a dumping ground for cheap milk. It is distorted by other countries’ subsidies…,” he says, predicting that if supply management is taken away, only large factory farms will operate.
“If supply management disappears and we have to sell milk at a world price, there’ll be a lot of farms disappear.”
He adds that in Canada, no growth hormones are used, and notes the cost of production is higher here than in the U.S. A shorter growing season in Canada adds to costs, as does paying workers a reasonable wage.
“We’re happy to pay a good living wage.”
McLeod’s farm currently milks 180 cows and he predicts several hundred would be needed under a post-TPP system, if the ‘no supply management’ lobby wins.
He said both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and trade minister Ed Fast have both stated publicly they’re trying to defend supply management. However, he’s afraid they may give up supply management in order to have the country remain part of the agreement.
“All the farmers are hoping they will live up to it but the pressure on them is intense. If it comes down to us being included or not included in this trade agreement, I fear the worst.”
McLeod said he met with Okanagan-Shuswap MP Colin Mayes about a year ago.
“He basically gave us some pretty strong assurances.”
Mayes told the Observer Monday that if the government were to say OK to changing the system, “we would take it back to dairy farmers and people in the supply management sector and discuss with them some way it could be changed.”
He remembers that former MP Chuck Stahl said if Canada was to subsidize farming to the same level it’s subsidized in the U.S., Canada would have to spend $80 billion.
Mayes said his government has signed 38 trade agreements since it’s been in power and only signs ones that are in the best interest of Canadians.
Henry Bremer, president of the Kamloops Okanagan Dairy Association, says he thinks all dairy farmers are concerned about possible repercussions from the TPP.
“Supply management has served us well for 50 years, we would like to continue with that. Canada has signed many free trade agreements over the years and has always managed to preserve supply management. We’re hoping that will happen again.”