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Canada will resist EU demands in trade agreement talks

4 May 2010

Canada will resist EU demands in trade agreement talks

By Ian Elliott

The Canadian government will resist pressure from European Union trade negotiators to open the domestic dairy and poultry markets to European product in talks on a free trade agreement, the country’s number-two agriculture minister said May 3.

Canada’s dairy and poultry programs operate under supply management schemes. Access to the domestic market for imports is controlled through a World Trade Organization-tested system of tariff rate quotas. Dairy and poultry farmers want that system preserved in any free trade agreement negotiations with the EU.

Negotiators from the European Commission and Canada held their third round of talks on a Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement last month in Ottawa, Ont. Talks started April 19 but were extended into a second week because of European travel problems due to the spread of volcanic ash from Iceland. The next round of talks is scheduled for July in Brussels, Belgium.

Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Canada’s minister of state for agriculture, said Monday the Conservative government will defend the supply management system in the EU talks. "Here in Canada, supply management works," the minister told CP news service. "If we open our borders, there will be huge difficulties for these sectors. There would need to be changes for the way we do things, and we’re functioning very well in Canada."

His latest promise repeats previous assurances from government ministers in Parliament, but observers noted that Blackburn is not likely to be central to deciding Canada’s final position in the talks when the Cabinet chooses final trade-offs.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of International Trade Peter Van Loan will both be in Brussels May 4-5 for a summit meeting with European Commission leaders. The free trade talks are expected to figure high on their agenda.