Some P.E.I. farmers to benefit from TPP, others lose

Steve Sharratt
Published on October 7, 2015

Randy Sanderson, a beef producer on the York Point Road in Cornwall, feeds some of his cattle at his farm on Oct. 6, 2015.

©Brian McInnis/The Guardian

Dennis King welcomes the opportunity to see business grow.

But when politicians start predicting a new trade deal will provide “huge” opportunities and list none of the disadvantages, the executive director of the P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association starts looking for the small print.

“The devil is always in the details,” he said in reaction to a new Pacific Rim trade deal. “No one has seen the finished version, but any time there is improved access to markets, it’s a positive thing.”

The Trans Pacific Partnership involves 12 countries, including Canada, and an agreement in principle was reached this week.

The deal would effectively reduce and then remove tariffs on an array of products from food to cars, allow more imports, and is hailed by the Conservative government as the most comprehensive trade agreement in the world.

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The obvious export winners, according to the government, are beef, barley, pork, fish and canola exporters, who are getting better access to the huge but highly protected Japanese market.

“Prince Edward Island exports to TPP countries averaged $606.7 million annually from 2012 to 2014,” says Federal Fisheries Minister and Egmont Conservative candidate Gail Shea.

“Tariffs will be eliminated on almost all of our key exports like aerospace, seafood, and processed potatoes.”

More than 200 farmers, mostly dairy, recently protested the trade plan at Shea’s campaign office in Summerside fearing the dismantling of supply management systems, but Shea said Canadian farmers would be compensated for any losses.

“We’re a trading province and it will help fisheries, hog and beef commodities,’’ said Agriculture Minister Alan McIsaac. “The big concern is the effect on dairy and feathers. It won’t end supply management, it will just allow more product in.”

New imports are expected to come mainly from the U.S., Australia and New Zealand and government says dairy farmers stand to pocket $165,000 under the compensation package.

Farmers in the supply managed sectors dairy, chicken and eggs are not subsidized in Canada and consumers pay higher prices.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) soundly denounces the deal and claims it will “severely damage Canada’s supply managed sectors dairy, chicken, turkey and eggs and provide illusory market gains for other agriculture sectors such as beef, pork, grain and oilseeds”.

“What’s with all the secrecy?’’ asked Cardigan MP and Liberal candidate Lawrence MacAulay. “We’re certainly in favour of trade, but government did this all in secret during an election campaign and we need to see the deal before the election.”

However, the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture says the deal provides farmers the market certainty they need.

“The trade agreement resulted in market concessions to the dairy, poultry and egg industries, meaning more American milk for example in the local grocery store and less locally produced milk, chicken, turkey and eggs on the Island,” said director Robert Godfrey. “This has real impact on these types of farms and was not the desired outcome, but we are encouraged to see programs announced to mitigate the negative repercussions to producers by means of compensation.”

The executive director of the Aerospace and Defense Association of P.E.I. says it would appear aerospace products will now gain easier access to the new trade markets.

“We’d need more knowledge at this point,” said Lennie Kelly in Charlottetown. “But I don’t see anything harmful.”

Back at the Seafood Processors Association, King said business has been ongoing in many Pacific Rim countries for years, but he noted anything that makes it easier for brokers and sellers to access the marketplace is good.

“It looks good on the surface, but it’s not a miracle bullet to make a whole bunch of money,’’ he said. “Our biggest concern is to have access to the people we need to process the products. We really need a labour mobility component in this deal.”