Canada’s supply managed sectors are being put on notice by trade minister David Emerson that their protectionist interests cannot continue to limit the ability of Canadian trade negotiators to win stronger concessions.
He said Canada for too long has pulled back from signing trade access agreements if the trade-off was to open sensitive sectors like dairy, poultry and eggs to greater import competition.
“We’ve got sector sensitivities and we’ve always deferred to this industry or that industry that felt that they couldn’t cope with free trade and so we tended to put aside agreements that were largely in this country’s best interests but because of narrow sensitivities, we just didn’t bite the bullet.
“I’ll probably get hell for this but I can envisage a time where we are just going to have to say to some resistant sectors that there is a national interest and we should work with sectors to see if they can, with some modest support from government, transition to a globally competitive stature or we’re going to just have to go through the painful adjustment.”
Emerson made clear he included supply management as a system that has dictated a Canadian defensive trade negotiating policy at the expense of competitive exporters.
“We cannot for long sustained periods of time be defensive traders or we will wither and die the death of 1,000 cuts. And we won’t win. We can protect but we won’t win.”
The official Canadian position for several decades, including by Emerson’s Conservative government, is that the country can maintain a balanced trade position – winning market access for exporters while also protecting sensitive sectors.
So far, Emerson’s views notwithstanding, Conservatives have insisted supply management protection will not be threatened.