Conservative Ag Critic on Ag Free Trade

Agriculture, Frontier Centre, Rural, Uncategorized

Dear Mr. Penner:

In the interest of clarity I thought I would address your June 16, 2005 “Who Speaks For Free Trade?” commentary, as posted on the The Frontier Centre for Public Policy website.

It is absolutely not the position of the Conservative Party that the Government of Canada leave the WTO negotiations if over quota tariffs on sensitive products are reduced. There is far too much at stake for Canada’s negotiators to leave the table without achieving the fundamental goals of the negotiations. For the sake of our country’s agricultural producers, we need to get a deal in this round, but we can’t do that if we’re not at the table.

For some time now the Bloc Quebecois has been promoting the need to protect supply management at all costs. As a result, during the recent debate on supply management, I asked a Bloc member if he would recommend that the Minister leave the negotiating table if the supply management system were threatened. I did this simply to determine whether or not the Bloc recognized, as the Conservative Party does, the needs of the majority of Quebec producers – those who do not operate under supply management.

To be clear, the Conservative Party understands that the current unfair market situation facing our grain and oilseed producers is simply not sustainable or acceptable. These producers continue to face crippling foreign subsidies and unfair tariffs with estimated losses of $1.3 billion annually.

When it comes to trade, the numbers don’t lie: some 90 percent of Canada’s agricultural sector depends on international trade – and when our access to other markets is threatened, our agricultural sector is on the line. It is in farmers’ best interests that Canada is engaged in creating a system of rules-based free trade. Whether it’s grain and oilseed farmers, ranchers, pork producers, or others, free markets and open international borders mean more money in the pockets of our producers.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper has been a consistent and passionate voice for opening world markets for Canadian exports, and the Conservative party is just as committed. We believe that increased international trade is a key to Canada’s future prosperity. That is why the Conservative Party of Canada supports the goals of the Doha round of WTO negotiations, those being substantial improvements in market access, the phasing out of export subsidies and substantial reductions in trade distorting domestic support. This position is affirmed in the Conservative Party’s international trade policy.

Again, I believe it would be irresponsible for Canada’s negotiators to walk away from the WTO negotiations. As the Conservative agriculture critic, I believe that increased international trade is a key to Canada’s future prosperity. Conservative leader Stephen Harper has been a consistent and passionate voice for opening new markets for Canadian exports, and the Conservative party is just as committed.

Sincerely,
Diane Finley, MP
Official Opposition Critic for Agriculture and Agri-food

Rolf Penner responds (bold text inserted into original email):

Dear Mr. Penner:

In the interest of clarity I thought I would address your June 16, 2005 “Who Speaks For Free Trade?” commentary, as posted on The Frontier Centre for Public Policy website.

It is absolutely not the position of the Conservative Party that the Government of Canada leave the WTO negotiations if over quota tariffs on sensitive products are reduced. There is far too much at stake for Canada’s negotiators to leave the table without achieving the fundamental goals of the negotiations. For the sake of our countries agricultural producers, we need to get a deal in this round, but we can’t do that if we’re not at the table.

This the first time since the last election that the Conservative Party of Canada has clearly articulated a position supporting trade liberalization. This clear statement should not stand alone, but be followed by a platform that articulates the needs of the 90% of farmers who depend upon world markets for their livelihoods, as well as the other export-oriented industries in Canada.

For some time now the Bloc Quebecois has been promoting the need to protect supply management at all costs. As a result, during the recent debate on supply management, I asked a Bloc member if he would recommend that the Minister leave the negotiating table if the supply management system were threatened. I did this simply to determine whether or not the Bloc recognized, as the Conservative Party does, the needs of the majority of Quebec producers those who do not operate under supply management.

Before this clarification from the Opposition Agriculture Critic, the position of the Conservatives was anything but clear. Given the previous lack of support for the objectives of the Doha round of negotiations and the frequent comments advocating protectionist agriculture positions it was difficult to conclude that the Conservatives understand the need for, and the benefits of, trade liberalizations.

We would also welcome additional clarification on how the Conservative Party of Canada would deal with the 300% tariffs currently in place to protect the minority of supply managed commodities, as these tariffs are not conducive to a trading environment. In the past your party has unequivocally supported the goals of supply management which are a major trade irritant and the support of which by our federal politicians has resulted in our current isolation at the world trade talks.

It is good to see the re-evaluation of the trade policy position that is evident in the Agriculture Critic’s reply. The Conservatives have an opportunity to lead Canada forward in a needed principled (non-contradictory) debate on the WTO negotiations.

To be clear, the Conservative Party understands that the current unfair market situation facing our grain and oilseed producers is simply not sustainable or acceptable. These producers continue to face crippling foreign subsidies and unfair tariffs with estimated losses of $1.3 billion annually.

When it comes to trade, the numbers don’t lie: some 90 percent of Canada’s agricultural sector depends on international trade and when our access to other markets is threatened, our agricultural sector is on the line. It is in farmer’s best interests that Canada is engaged in creating a system of rules-based free trade. Whether its grain and oilseed farmers, ranchers, pork producers, or others, free markets and open international borders mean more money in the pockets of our producers.

This position maximizes benefits to Canadian producers and the broader Canadian economy. We still question why it has taken Canada’s Conservative Party so long to come to these conclusions. We simply could not find any previous public statements that demonstrated an understanding of these facts.

It is important that this understanding is not lost in the rush to find votes. It is in the best interest of the country that trade liberalization occurs as quickly as possible. The Conservative Party of Canada certainly has a major opportunity to become the leading voice pushing for these reforms.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper has been a consistent and passionate voice for opening world markets for Canadian exports, and the Conservative party is just as committed. We believe that increased international trade is a key to Canada’s future prosperity. That is why the Conservative Party of Canada supports the goals of the Doha round of WTO negotiations, those being substantial improvements in market access, the phasing out of export subsidies and substantial reductions in trade distorting domestic support. This position is affirmed in the Conservative Party’s international trade policy.

While this is true, the parties’ official position on supply management unfortunately undermines and is inconsistent with its position on trade, we cannot ask other countries to reduce their level of protectionism without being willing to do so ourselves. This is precisely what they are telling us at the negotiations.

Again, I believe it would be irresponsible for Canada’s negotiators to walk away from the WTO negotiations. As the Conservative agriculture critic, I believe that increased international trade is a key to Canada’s future prosperity. Conservative leader Stephen Harper has been a consistent and passionate voice for opening new markets for Canadian exports, and the Conservative party is just as committed.

Sincerely,
Diane Finley, MP
Official Opposition Critic for Agriculture and Agri-food

Again, thanks for the welcome clarification. We still wonder why it has taken so long for the Conservative Party to clearly express support for the Doha round of negotiations but are encouraged that it might lead to stronger advocacy of necessary reforms that will benefit all of Canada.

Liberalization will be the strongest rural development policy that Canada has seen in many generations. Canada needs politicians to become champions for change; not pander to highly organized interests who are trying to protect their narrow privileges. Hopefully this response is the first step towards this positive goal.

Rolf Penner,
Agricultural Policy Fellow,
Frontier Centre for Public Policy