by SUSAN MANN
When Canadian and European officials sign a comprehensive trade agreement possibly later this year, Essex County wants to be excluded from coming under the deal’s jurisdiction.
“We have concerns with wanting to be able to continue to use a lot of our local goods and services” including locally grown food, says Essex County Warden Tom Bain. The county has several programs in place and it wants to continue using local foods in its hospitals, schools, universities and municipalities, he says.
So the county passed a resolution in September 2011 requesting to be excluded from the proposed deal being negotiated now between Canadian and European officials. Negotiations began in 2009.
Essex is one of several Ontario municipalities requesting an exemption from the Canada-Europe Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement because of concerns about restrictions on local procurement policies that may hamper their ability to use service providers from their communities.
At least three Ontario agriculture organizations are also concerned about the effect the agreement will have on the local food movement.
Implications for supply management?
Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Mark Wales says they have concerns about what it might mean for supply management and municipal, provincial and federal institutions’ procurement of Ontario-produced food.
photo: Mark Wales
Wales says there have been rumours the negotiations include “allowing European firms access” and restrictions on both the ability of local municipalities to source locally and the ability of the province to have its facilities source from Ontario.
Ann Slater, National Farmers Union Ontario branch coordinator, says the deal will undermine municipal, university, hospital, and provincial efforts to support farmers through local procurement policies since any contracts worth $300,000 or more must be opened up to outside bidding. “You would not be able to favour local content or input” if a European company’s bid was cheaper, she says.
She says the NFU analysis is based on leaked drafts that have been subsequently verified by Canada’s chief negotiator.
Ontario asked to hold off on supporting agreement
In an April 25 letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty, the NFU Ontario branch requested that Ontario refrain from signing off on the Canada-European trade agreement until restrictions on favouring local goods and services providers and certain enforcement tools being proposed for intellectual property rights are dropped from the proposed deal.
photo: Ann Slater
Slater says enforcement tools being considered in the agreement would enable multinational seed companies to seize farmers’ property, crops, equipment and cash for alleged infringement of intellectual property rights and provide for criminal enforcement of those rights. They will also severely restrict farmers’ ability to save, reuse, exchange and sell seed.
Ontario Economic Development and Innovation Minister Brad Duguid says the province is in favour of the federal government proceeding with the proposed trade agreement. But “we will be ensuring Ontario’s interests are protected as they do that.”
Deal important for province's economy
It’s important for Ontario whose economy depends on expanding its trade markets that “we move forward in a positive way with an agreement with the proviso that Ontario’s interests are protected,” he says. He points out that the European market “would be a huge opportunity for Ontario businesses to grow our economy and enhance our exports.”
He says for the deal to be successful the expectation is the provinces “will be supporting” rather than signing off on it. Negotiations are in their ninth round “and my understanding is they’re very close to coming forward with an agreement,” he says.
Local Food Plus vice president Don Mills says they share some of the NFU Ontario branch’s concerns about the deal’s possible effects on local food procurement policies and programs. The federal government has made some statements that the proposed deal won’t affect buy local programs and “the best way to do that is to have that expressly in the document so there’s no later confusion,” he says.
Local Food Plus is a non-profit organization that promotes local, environmentally and socially responsible food production by certifying farmers and processors and linking them with local purchasers.
Deal the equivalent of creating 80,000 Canadian jobs
Canada’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade department says on its website a study conducted jointly with the European Union found the agreement could boost Canada’s gross domestic product by $12 billion annually and increase bilateral trade by 20 per cent. That’s equivalent to creating almost 80,000 new jobs or adding $1,000 to the average Canadian family’s income.
The department’s website says the agreement would lock in permanent duty-free access on key Ontario interests, such as oilseeds and pulses. Eliminating tariff barriers would increase sales of Ontario’s agricultural products in the European market of 500 million consumers and that would directly benefit Ontarians through more jobs, higher wages and greater long-term prosperity, the department’s website says.
Slater says the government is trying to sell the deal: “There’s already low tariffs on many agricultural products going to Europe anyway so they’re going to reduce the tariffs on items that already have fairly low tariffs.”
Lorne Small, president of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, says their philosophy is Canada must trade because it has a small population and a lot of farmland. In addition, Canada must be involved in trade all around the world. It’s better that “you have trade agreements where you write the rules than be subject to almost erratic behavior by some of these other governments,” he says.
Canadian farmers can compete with anyone “if we have a level playing field,” he says, noting with the trade deal the federal government wants to install a level playing field between the protectionist Europeans and Canada. The Europeans have implemented many trade barriers, particularly in non-agricultural goods, that the Canadian government is trying to address so most of the agreement has nothing to do with agriculture. BF