Canadian milk producers rely entirely on market prices and receive no government subsidies to support their incomes. They need the Canadian market to be protected so that exporting countries that heavily subsidize their producers, have weather conditions that we cannot compete against, or even practice social or environmental dumping (i.e. benefit from less demanding rules and cheap labour) are unable to invade the Canadian market.
Since 2001, negotiations have been held at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in view of signing a new agreement on trade in goods and services. The main issue of these negotiations is agriculture. The large and powerful exporters (United States, European Union, India, Brazil, Australia, etc.) want to reachan agreement that allows them to export even more agricultural products.
Canada’s negotiating position, which is in line with a unanimous motion passed by the House of Commons in November 2005, is not to agree to any tariff reduction or increase in access to the market of products under supply management in the eventual WTO agreement. Milk, egg (market or hatching) and poultry (chicken, turkey) producers in Quebec and Canada are closely monitoring these negotiations in order to make sure that Canada does not sign an agreement that would allow tariff reductions or increased access to markets in sectors under supply management.
In ten years of negotiations, the member states of the WTO have not reached an agreement. However, negotiations were heated in the summer of 2008. A 23% tariff reduction at borders and 6% in additional market access were proposed in the draft agreement negotiated in 2008, which would have exposed Canadian milk products to unfair competition from foreign, largely subsidized products. This agreement would have jeopardized more than 40% of agricultural cash receipts in Quebec and, as a result, some 70,000 direct and indirect jobs on farms and in the processing industry. It would have caused milk producers in this country alone to lose at least $1 billion, or around $70,000 per dairy farm, which was higher than the average family income of $52,000 on dairy farms in 2009. In sum, it would have wiped out almost every dairy farm in Quebec, as well as the entire infrastructure of the industry.
With the food crisis that is affecting more than one billion people on the planet, it is illogical to negotiate trade agreements that will make countries even more vulnerable to fluctuations in world’s agricultural product markets. The only true viable alternative to liberalizing agricultural trade is food sovereignty and making agriculture an exception in trade agreements. Agriculture is not an economic sector like others because food sources sustain life. This must be acknowledged in international trade agreements, especially since world governments already recognize the right to food, as stated in the Charter of Human Rights and advocated by the United Nations (UN).