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Dairy cattle feed at Nicomekl Farms, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

One of Canada’s largest farm groups is urging members of Parliament not to back legislation that would prevent federal negotiators from granting further tariff-free access to this country’s heavily protected dairy, eggs and poultry markets in future trade negotiations.

If the private member’s bill sponsored by Bloc Québécois MP Louis Plamondon were it to pass, it could bind Canada’s hands in coming negotiations on a trade deal with Britain. Canada and Britain announced a provisional deal last week – to cover the period after which Britain leaves the European Union and until a final agreement with Canada is struck.

Canada’s dairy, egg and poultry markets are shielded from significant foreign competition by massive tariff walls. This protectionism forms part of this country’s supply management system, which aims to provide a stable income for domestic dairy, egg and poultry producers without resorting to government subsidies. During trade negotiations, Canada sometimes grants foreign countries the right to sell fixed amounts of dairy, eggs or poultry to Canadians at reduced or zero tariffs, as part of the horse-trading that occurs in talks.

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Foreigners have gained further access to these sheltered markets in three recent trade deals signed by the federal Liberal government: the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union, the Trans-Pacific Partnership with countries fronting the Pacific Rim and the revised North American free-trade agreement.

As he introduced the legislation last week, Mr. Plamondon said Canada is also currently negotiating with five countries that are part of the Mercosur trade bloc, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela and Bolivia. “Canada is opening an ever-widening door in our markets for foreign companies to sell their products here,” he told the Commons.

The NDP said it plans to support the legislation. Quebec Conservative MP Luc Berthold said his party will likely not support the legislation. “This is a bad bill, [which] will achieve nothing. It is virtue signalling that will draw attention to supply management in each and every future negotiation.”

The Canadian Agri-food Trade Alliance (CAFTA) is warning that Mr. Plamondon’s bill would hurt Canada’s ability to wring the most out of future trade deals.

CAFTA’s members represent about 90 per cent of Canada’s agri-food exports – about $60-billion annually – and account for economic activity that supports about one million jobs in agriculture and food manufacturing.

“We write to respectfully urge you to not support Bill C-216: an act to make it illegal to include supply management in ongoing and future negotiations,” CAFTA president Dan Darling wrote in a Nov. 27 letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet and Green Party Leader Annamie Paul.

It “effectively ties the hands of negotiators before negotiations even begin. As such, it would severely constrain the government’s ability to negotiate the best deals for Canada and in turn for Canadian agri-food exporters and workers,” Mr. Darling said in the letter.

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He also warned it could lead to other sectors seeking exemptions.

“Such legislation would set a dangerous precedent inviting other sectors and trading partners to seek exclusions from trade negotiations,” Mr. Darling wrote.

The national market for dairy, eggs and poultry expands each year as Canada’s population grows. By blocking further foreign access to this market, the legislation “would reduce opportunities to be invited to a seat at the table of various bilateral and multilateral negotiations and put Canada on a collision course with the United States and many other trading partners, especially when it is time to review, extend or modernize existing trade agreements,” Mr. Darling warned.

During the 2019 federal election campaign, Mr. Trudeau said his party would not grant further foreign access to supply-managed markets in Canada.

Mr. Plamondon has argued, however, that the Conservatives and Liberals cannot be trusted. “We want protection of supply management inserted in a statute so that it is given force of law.”

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