EU deal not so good for local dairy farmers

By Robert Washburn

While a trade deal with the European Union is being heralded as a big win for Canada, local municipal leaders should be raising big concerns.

Details remain scarce, but the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) announced last week is aimed at increasing bilateral trade between Europe and Canada, adding $12 billion boost to the Canadian economy and 80,000 new jobs.

And while some sectors are praising the deal, others are not. Canada’s beef and pork producers are claiming it is good news, while dairy farmers and cheese makers are concerned over imports.

The documentation is massive and not much is public and it is expected to be another two years before the agreement is finalized.

Northumberland County politicians should be wary.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities set out seven principles on CETA in October 2011, including concerns over access to tenders and contracts, local procurement, dispute resolution and so forth.

The extent of the impact of the new rules is yet to be determined. Even the federation is vague in its response as it continues to wait to see how the details will play out following last week’s announcement.

However, there are concerns being raised about changes in the diary, wine and pharmaceuticals industries.

What is most disconcerting is Northumberland MP Rick Norlock went to every municipal council in 2011 saying there was nothing to worry about. He appeared before Cobourg council on Sept. 13, 2011 promising there would be no infringement of municipal rights. He said the agriculture sector in Northumberland would benefit. Drug patents would be protected and there would be no trade in bulk water, he told council.

It would appear dairy farmers and cheese makers are not part of the local agriculture sector, if Mr. Norlock is to be taken at his word.

Also, the notion of “buy local” could come under fire when it comes to municipalities, police departments, schools and other public institutions. There are indications there would be certain thresholds when it comes to tendering. The purchase of goods or construction jobs worth more than $300,000 or $7.8 million respectively may be open to foreign European companies.

But, what about other “buy local” initiatives or promotions, like purchasing local cheeses at the farmer’s market or buying wine made in the county or nearby? Northumberland County could see more farms closing, just like it watched manufacturers close not so long ago.

Would efforts like Prosper Northumberland, which is working very hard to enhance local shopping, be affected? Or, what about the Northumberland Food Charter group

trying to get county residents to spend $10 more per week on locally produced food? These initiatives could be threatened.

CETA lies in very murky waters because so much remains hidden in the shadows. And, while the Conservative government will give assurances, nothing should be taken for granted. We should expect to see Norlock back on the road doing a public relations campaign in the near future.

When the North America Free Trade Agreement was signed more than 30 years ago, nobody expected how it would hit municipalities. But when the mass exodus of manufacturers took place in the 1990s and rural areas watched as their economic base was gutted, leaving so many workers with skills and highly paid jobs in the dust, local politicians have every right to be skeptical this time around.

Originally published: Oct. 23, 2013