January 19, 1999

The debate in Canada continues - how should Canada position itself in upcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) agriculture negotiations set to begin in late 1999? At a series of "Take Note" hearings on the subject concluded in Ottawa late last year, a number of common messages emerged from "export oriented" groups:

  • Build on lessons learned during the Uruguay Round and approach the new negotiations with a vision of growth and competitiveness versus maintaining the status quo

  • Aggressively pursue the goal of the Canadian Agri-Food Marketing Council -- to capture 4% of world trade by 2005 and double agri-food exports to $40 billion

  • Actively seek the elimination of export subsidies and the reduction of agricultural tariffs

  • Seek a comprehensive package and growth in commodity and value-added exports across all agri-food sectors

Below are highlights of presentations of a number of export oriented groups. (Transcripts of these and other proceedings can be found at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.)

Alliance of Agri-Food Exporters

"The scope of negotiations should be comprehensive enough to provide the WTO members with a real incentive to negotiate significant and meaningful market liberalization."

The Canadian Alliance of Agri-Food Exporters, whose members account for over $20 billion in exports, called for meaningful increases in minimum access commitments on a product-by-product basis, maximum reductions in tariffs, the complete elimination of export subsidies and further reductions in trade distorting domestic support.

Above all, the Alliance stressed that Canada is a value-added agriculture-exporting nation that depends on open markets and fair trade rules. Canada should take a leadership role in the WTO round to see that these conditions are achieved.

On the question of Canada's proposed "balanced" approach to negotiations, Mr. Richard Watson, representative of the Alliance responded: "I don't disagree that a balanced approach can be beneficial, but the balance we would like to see is a balance toward removing restriction globally and creating opportunity globally. What's going to provide opportunity is not protection for weakness, but having opportunity for strengths."

Food and Consumer Products Manufacturers of Canada

"To retain our per capita level of exports and stay competitive we must embrace a zero tariff environment and eliminate non-tariff trade barriers."

The Food and Consumer Products Manufacturers of Canada (FCPMC), opened by debunking the myth that FCPMC is calling for the elimination of supply management. George Fleischmann, President of FCPMC, argued, however, that reforms are necessary to drive unnecessary costs out of the system - recognizing that the Canadian food and beverage industry purchases 45% of all agricultural commodities sold from farm gate. In 1997 the industry employed 211,000 workers across Canada and produced exports valued at $11.5 billion.

FCPMC urged the government to shift its policy focus to incorporate the whole agri-food supply chain and to actively seek the reduction/elimination of tariffs in the WTO, not only on commodities, but also on processed foods. A 1998 research study forecasts a potential increase in the use of agricultural products from $13 billion to $18 billion by 2008. FCPMC noted that certain trade barriers continue to impede this growth, including U.S. restrictions on sugar-containing products, limits on biotechnology-based products, etc.

Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association

"The bottom line is that the Uruguay Round negotiations demonstrated the limits of Canada's ability to maintain market access barriers."

The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association (CRFA), whose members employ 870,000 people and generate annual sales of over $32 billion, focused on how the WTO will affect Canada's dairy and poultry producers, major suppliers to Canada's restaurant and food service industry. The CRFA echoed the need to "progressively reduce market access barriers" internationally and at home.

Ms. Kathleen Sullivan spoke for the CRFA stating that, "We think it's better for Canada, for Canadian producers and all the downstream stakeholders in the dairy and chicken industry, if we as Canadians and as members of those industries, come up with solutions and reform to the industries, that will not just preserve those industries after the next round of negotiations but in fact make them stronger."

In their submission the CRFA noted that, "If our negotiators use up valuable capital pursuing the status quo, other important Canadian agriculture sectors may pay the price - e.g., wheat and oilseed farmers, sugar producers, the red meat sectors et al."