Hope you like butter, because you’re going to keep paying through the nose for it: a tale of Canada-EU trade

Thirty-five — thirty-five! — European trade negotiators were scheduled to arrive in Ottawa over the weekend for the first of five scheduled negotiating sessions with a Canadian trade team, the first formal talks aimed at producing CETA — a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. The only news organization in Canada that seems to have noticed is the Globe and Mail. (UPDATE: But that’s only if you missed the editorial in the Citizen and the coverage in Embassy, as I did.) And…well, surprise, surprise:

Europe insists that its dairy industries have full access to Canadian markets without any unfair competition from within Canada. Danish, Irish and French butter can be bought in supermarkets all over Europe, and officials see no reason why that can’t be the case in Canada, too.

And for the most part, Canada’s farmers share that desire: There are beef shortages in European markets, for example, and the beef-cattle industry is lobbying for more open access, along with most other farm sectors, which see Europe’s 500 million people as a highly desirable market for farm products.

But dairy farmers in central Canada, who represent a small share of agriculture, are pushing hard for protection of the government-subsidy program known as supply management.

This is, of course, no surprise at all. “We will still defend supply management,” Jean Charest told me in May. Could that be a deal-breaker? It could: In July I wrote about comments by the lead EU negotiator, Mauro Petriccione, who said: “We have had region-to-region negotiations [between the EU and other international partners] that we have suspended because our partners would not offer us the benefits of an integrated market, equal to those that we were offering.”

The benefits of enhanced Canada-EU trade would be broad and deep, including to the great majority of Canada’s agricultural sector. The benefits of continued sandbagging to prop up some dairy farmers include a measure of gratitude in a string of rural ridings across Ontario and Quebec. I’ll leave it to you to do that math.

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