Agriculture and the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement: The devil’s in the detail

October 5, 2018 | Brenda Dyack

Agriculture and the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement: The devil’s in the detail

Negotiating international agreements of any sort creates winners and losers in a new world order.  While the ultimate impact on losers under this Agreement will take some time to evaluate, supply managed agricultural industries in Canada are clearly losers and initial reactions indicate that they will be seriously hit by the changes.

How can we come to terms with the inequity of the burden? Where do we go to from here?

There are important steps we need to take and some essential components of an acceptable and workable solution.

First of all, we need to assess the damage.

We need to evaluate the nature and the extent of the changes. At this point what appears clear is that there will be concessions of market access to be implemented over six years. This is a defined and finite change having an impact on dairy, poultry, and eggs that can be estimated. A different impact will come from changes in process that impact adjustment and extend forward into the future. This is the case regarding the elimination of Class 7 milk, with this impact being more difficult to understand.

The implications of the Agreement are complex and will defy the ability of many to assess them well. Those most affected by any change, particularly a harmful one, can tell the rest of us the details of how the change is hitting home and therefore, we need to involve those who are directly affected.

Individual producers and producer groups affected by this change must be consulted as part of the process of assessing the collective impact on all affected producers.

We in Canada have a history of social policy that promotes the collective good. This is why our health policy evolved in the 1950s to one that would not leave some out in the cold, unable to pay for the care that others could afford. Although right next door to the massive influence of a culture largely based on individual responsibility for wellbeing, we in Canada embraced policy that took care of our people – all of them.

Similarly, supply management is rooted in early decisions to protect farm families from price volatility, as well as to support farm incomes for certain commodities. Quota systems here are now mature and a basis of the income and wealth of those who own quota. This reality is recognized by Minister Freeland, Canada’s lead negotiator, who has made it clear that there will be full compensation.

Quantification of “full compensation” needs to involve those affected.

As we progress through understanding the costs of this Agreement by assessing who is affected and to what degree, we have the opportunity to take advantage of this policy window to design changes that not only address the inequitable impact of the Agreement, but also address concerns that have been percolating, such as how supply managed industries can be made more accessible to new entrants.

There are other emerging considerations that will come to the forefront as we quickly gain an understanding of the specific details, assess impacts and move towards solutions. After all, when the going gets tough, the tough get creative. We will adapt and we will be resilient once we know the details.

Brenda Dyack is Director of Research and Policy for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKXFM Chatham, and CKNX Wingham. It is also archived on the CFFO website, CFFO is supported by 4,000 family farmers across Ontario.