The House of Commons committee on international trade has done no service to Canada by its unanimous report this month that does little more than insist on the preservation as-is of supply management in the Canadian dairy, egg and poultry industries, by regulatory schemes that include both tariff and quota barriers to foreign importers.
If the Doha Round negotiations of the World Trade Organization result in an agreement that would require the alteration of Canadian supply management, it would be highly imprudent for Canada to sacrifice its membership in the international trading system overseen by the WTO, after many years of good global citizenship in the WTO and its postwar predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade - and to forgo many new opportunities for Canadians in more open markets around the world.
It is not a good sign for Canadian politics that, in spite of the incivility and antagonism in the House of Commons, MPs from all four parties in the Commons have agreed on digging in their heels, as if they were preparing for a state of siege - with supplementary opinions from the NDP and the Bloc Québécois, going farther and invoking the more radical concept of "food sovereignty."
The committee members did allow themselves a faint hint of flexibility. They related the testimony of Gilles Gauthier, Canada's chief negotiator on agriculture in the Doha Round, to the effect that Canada's position on supply management is "extreme and difficult to defend." In their conclusion, they accordingly acknowledged that the defence of these current policies is "a challenging task." Perhaps, then, they will not really fight to the death for the entrenched dairy, egg and poultry interests, to the detriment of a far more populous group: the consumers of Canada.
Fortunately, this month also saw the publication of a much more substantial report on the issue by Danielle Goldfarb of the Conference Board of Canada. She points out that Canada has already lost much of its influence in multilateral trade negotiations, largely because of its defence of a closed dairy market.
Canada will be better off if there are at least a few clear voices in Parliament that speak in favour of agricultural free trade.