Senate committee needs to carefully examine supply management bill

Canada needs good trade agreements for all its export sectors

Ottawa—The Senate trade committee should take a close look at the implications of a bill already approved by the Commons to protect the supply managed sector in future trade negotiations, says Ontario Senator Rob Black.

The bill from Bloc Quebecois MP Luc Theriault would prevent the government from making any changes to the supply managed sector in future trade talks. Black said he wants the bill to pass second reading in the Senate and be referred to its trade committee for careful study of possible implications beyond agriculture.

The bill not only divides the supply-managed dairy and poultry producers from the rest of the agriculture sector, it also divides him, Black, one of the leading champions of farmers in Parliament, said.

“While this bill may appear to be about agriculture and the supply-managed sector within agriculture, this bill is actually about international trade and future trade negotiations.” It will direct Canada’s trade negotiators to continue to protect the supply-managed sector, which has become a wedge issue in the agriculture sector.

Is the bill really needed when Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay has said the government will continue to preserve, protect and defend supply management and is committed to not making any additional market access concessions for supply-managed products in future trade agreements, Black said. “The agriculture industry cannot — and should not — be divided in such a controversial way.”

It is clear that this bill is about protectionism. “We need to consider if this is the future of Canadian trade and commerce. Do we want to be perceived as protectionist?” Other countries could follow Canada’s lead and start pulling their products off the bargaining table.

An issue that needs a lot more attention is the increase in the use of non-tariff barriers by countries, he said. “We’ve become so hyper-focused on free trade versus supply management that the government has missed the essential parts of our current agreements in maintaining supply chains.

“Despite continued global action to reduce tariffs and barriers, countries seem to be taking protectionist measures through non‑tariff barriers,” he said. Is that because they see countries like Canada “continuing to prevent open negotiation? Is it because we don’t continue to manage properly the free trade agreements we’ve already agreed to?”

Supply management is a long-championed aspect of Canadian agriculture. “We have long benefited from this program in times of global economic volatility. However, a display of unwillingness to enter negotiations in good faith may equally sway our trading partners from engaging fairly in the free trade negotiations that support Canada’s diverse and productive economy.”

This news report was prepared for National Newswatch.