CANADA HAS TRADE agreements with more than 50 nations. Ten years ago, you couldn’t open up the newspaper without reading about a new trade deal that was being signed or in the works. Open markets were seen as a benefit for everyone involved. But lately, it seems like all we have been reading about and hearing about in the news is the call to rescind, reevaluate, or renegotiate trade deals. In particular, three major agreements have been in the headlines:
CETA — the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the European Union and Canada which was signed at the end of October — faced opposition on both sides during its long negotiation process and last minute protests in Belgium threatened to kill the deal altogether.
NAFTA — the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the United States, and Mexico which has been in effect since 1994 — was called into question during the American presidential race with Donald Trump threatening to cancel the agreement if he was elected.
TPP — the Trans Pacific Partnership between 12 Pacific Rim countries — was signed earlier this year but must still be ratified by each individual government. Both Trump and Hillary Clinton stated they were against this agreement during their election campaigns and the U.S. Congress does not share in the support given to TPP by President Obama. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has indicated he will ratify the TPP — saying the Liberals are a “pro-trade party.”
So what does this all mean to Ontario grain farmers? Each of these agreements helps to reduce or eliminate tariffs and creates new market opportunities for our grain — whether through an increase in our grain exports or an increase in domestic use, such as animal feed or other food processing, that will eventually be exported. Grain Farmers of Ontario supports broader access for grains in order for our industry to remain viable. The increase in yields we have achieved in recent years means that the export market is more important to our farmer-members and so this issue is very important to us. However, we seem to be going backwards when it comes to free trade.
One interesting aspect to this move towards protectionism that I’ve noticed is that it doesn’t follow a political bent. Traditional party lines are being skewed and opinions on the value of trade are changing as a ‘me-first’ attitude takes hold, particularly in America. This change isn’t just being seen amongst political leaders, but it’s a message that is resonating with many voters as well. Even former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney has noted a growing antipathy to trade agreements in general (Mulroney, a supporter of bilateral trade agreements, played an integral role in the development of the Canada-U.S. agreement that evolved into NAFTA).
As farmers, we have learned to cope with many uncertainties — the weather, commodity prices, changing government regulations — trade agreements are just the latest addition to a growing list of business concerns we have little ability to control. •