Dairy Farmers of Canada to the Trudeau government: Promises must be kept

Opinion

A free-market think-tank suggests offering American negotiators in upcoming NAFTA talks more open trade in dairy, in exchange for more predictable trade in softwood lumber to secure long-term peace in that perennially problematic file. A Holstein cow stands in a pasture at a dairyfarm near Calgary in an August 31, 2016, file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Dairy farmers are tired of waiting and are breaking their silence.

The federal government made significant market access concessions in three successive trade deals: the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) with Europe, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) with the Asia-Pacific region and finally the new Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), which came into effect July 1, 2020. Combined, the three represent an annual loss of at least $450 million in revenue.

As a result of these agreements and concessions to the WTO, by 2024, 18 per cent of domestic dairy production will be outsourced. Foreign producers will supply milk for imported dairy products which will displace dairy products made with Canadian milk on supermarket shelves.

In 2019, the government announced compensation for CETA and the CPTPP, to be paid directly to farmers over eight years. The first instalment was issued at the end of last year, then silence: no further payments, and no word on when the remaining payments would be issued, even for this year – the uncertainty remains.

The government has also committed to full and fair compensation for CUSMA, but so far, no further details have been announced.

Prime Minister Trudeau, Deputy Prime Minister Freeland and Minister of Agriculture Bibeau have each repeated their commitment towards compensating dairy farmers for these trade agreements several times. The government often speaks about the contribution dairy farmers make towards the economy and our food security. In the Speech from the Throne earlier this fall, they said that “farmers keep our families fed, and we will continue to help them succeed and grow.”

Yet, here we are. It’s not exactly easy to budget, pay your debts or plan investments in a situation like this!

Dairy farmers have not made it through the pandemic unscathed. Despite making adjustments, farmers incurred losses. However, we have not asked for any pandemic-related financial assistance from the government, while in other countries like the U.S., farmers received a multi-billion-dollar bailout.

Canadian dairy farmers continue to manage the negative effects of the pandemic, but these trade deals will have impacts that are much wider-reaching and longer-lasting.

Given the pandemic, Canadians are demanding greater self-sufficiency in our food production. The pandemic has demonstrated the weakness of a model that relies disproportionately on the U.S. for our food. By holding out on its commitments to dairy farmers, the government is weakening a whole sector essential to our food security.

Dairy farming is one of the most important agricultural sectors in Canada and a key driver of economic activity, particularly in rural communities where the need is highest. The sector supports over 221,000 full-time-equivalent jobs, contributes $19.9 billion annually to Canada’s GDP, and generates $3.8 billion in tax revenue every year. Without the promised compensation, farmers may delay or cancel investments, which will have serious consequences.

That’s why we are reminding the government of its commitment to mitigate the impact of these concessions on our industry. It’s time for action, not just words!

Where does your local Member of Parliament stand on this issue; with dairy farming families or in support of Ottawa’s inertia? The question deserves an answer!

– Pierre Lampron, president, Dairy Farmers of Canada

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