November 20, 1998

A capacity crowd was on hand at the "Going Global" conference in Red Deer Alberta, November 11-13, to hear prominent trade experts outline the challenges and opportunities facing Canada's agriculture and food sector in the next round of World Trade Organization (WTO) talks. The high caliber list of speakers included Canada's Agriculture Minister, the U.S. Under Secretary of Agriculture, the Alberta Minister of Agriculture, high-ranking WTO officials, World Bank officials as well as recognized leaders from a host of farm organizations and companies in Canada and abroad.

Although the Canadian speakers and participants generally fell into either pro-trade or import sensitive camps, a number of common elements did emerge:

  • The EU policy towards reform will be a determining factor in the next WTO round. The U.S. is unlikely to make substantial reforms unless the EU does. The EU is resisting change, but the accession of former eastern bloc countries to the EU will exert extreme budgetary pressure, which may force reform.
  • Most speakers, including many from the supply managed industries, agreed that increased access to foreign markets was a high priority.
  • Nearly everyone called for the elimination of export subsidies and "blue box" domestic subsidies as well as clearer rules on "green box" subsidies in the next WTO round.

Agriculture Minister Vanclief underlined the importance of access when he noted that 50% of Canada's farm cash receipts come from exports.

Speakers from Australia and New Zealand noted a certain "ambiguity" in Canada's trade policy and urged delegates to embrace change. They felt a consistent Canadian position should emphasize secure, sustainable access to world markets on a dis-aggregated, product-by-product basis.

At the other end of spectrum, speakers from the U.S. indicated their country would likely try to "duck" reform on sugar and other import sensitive commodities.

Overall, the conference was an excellent start to a long process that is needed to develop Canada's position for the WTO agriculture negotiations, scheduled to start in late 1999.