Round three of NAFTA negotiations kicked off in Ottawa, Canada on Saturday. All three countries expect the dialogue to be “meatier” this time around. The previous two rounds of talks have been more or less a review of the agenda and a quick ice breaker game.
According to Ron Bonnett president of Canadian Federation of Agriculture there’s a good possibility some of the issues all three countries have in common will be settled this time. Those issues include; regulatory harmonization, reduced border crossing times, coordinated inspection systems and electronic filing for commerce trade between the three countries.
“Those are things we can agree on,” he says. “There’s going to be some thorny issues, but I think they’ve got to identify some of those and see if they can come to agreement on them. Or else it’s going to be a bit of a frustration that it is talk, talk, talk with no action going on.”
Dairy policy is one of those prickly issues.
The U.S. and Mexico are calling for restructuring of Canadian dairy policies around supply management. Canada says no way.
According to the Edmonton Journal: “The Canadian industry isn’t backing down and accuses the U.S. of giving its farmers unfair subsidies, while politicians from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on down have sworn to protect the much-maligned system that strictly controls the amount of foreign dairy products flowing into the country.”
“I would hope we could sort [dairy] out,” Bonnett says.
Jaime Castaneda, senior vice-president with the National Milk Producers Federation, says American dairy producers have tolerated supply management but Canada went too far when it created a new class for milk.
Bonnett says Canada managed to accommodate a lot of the concerns about supply management when they were involved in CEDA and TPP negotiations.
“I think there is a perception that if we protect supply management we’re not going to benefit some of the other export commodities. I’m not convinced that’s true,” he says. “Is dairy going to be put out there, likely it will, but it won’t be used as a negotiating tactic.”
Do No Harm
One big concern across all of agriculture is keeping the ‘Do No Harm’ message alive and well.
“Zippy Duval is very much focused on working with the Sec. of Agriculture, hoping ag doesn’t get run over by the bus,” Bonnett says.
Canada’s Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay, and U.S. Secretary Sonny Perdue will certainly influence whether or not agriculture is protected during renegotiation talks, but Bonnett says it needs to go beyond that.
“I think it’s about commodity groups and farm groups in both countries getting the message out and actually speaking to Congress,” he says. “I think congress at the end of the day is going to have a lot of say in this.”