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NFU puts trade, supply management on agenda

The StarPhoenix, Saskatoon

NFU puts trade, supply management on agenda

By Cassandra Kyle, The StarPhoenix

December 2, 2010

Terry Boehm is having a busy week.

The president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) just returned on Tuesday from a trip overseas, landing at the forefront of the NFU’s 41st annual convention, which starts today in Saskatoon. About 250 people from across the country are expected to attend the yearly event, which covers a range of issues from free trade to green initiatives.

Boehm spared some time Wednesday to answer five questions asked by StarPhoenix business reporter Cassandra Kyle.

SP: The theme for the NFU’s annual convention is Economics of Alternatives. What does that mean?

TB: The National Farmers’ Union characteristically has tried to look with a long-term view as to issues around agriculture.

So this year’s convention theme . . . perhaps it’s more looking at a shift away from the conventional model in agriculture of this sort of lavish devotion to export agriculture into those sorts of things that may attract new people into agriculture.

Agriculture has a demographic crisis around the world, farmers are getting old and there’s not a lot of young people interested in taking up agriculture, largely, so we’re trying to look at a broad range of issues from trade issues to supply management to international relations.

SP: Much of the convention is focused on CETA (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement being negotiated between Canada and the European Union). What do farmers need to know about the upcoming agreement?

TB: CETA in particular is extremely worrisome for farmers in a number of aspects. Many look at it as a trade agreement that’s opening up more markets, but the reality is the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement has significant implications for farmers.

For example, it essentially gives corporations the right to direct courts to conduct precautionary seizures of farmers’ movable and immovable property and the freezing of bank accounts. That would mean the crops, the land, equipment, etc., for the alleged infringement of an intellectual property right.

The other piece of it is a local food issue. Increasingly that is becoming more attractive and more interesting for especially young farmers and new entrants to agriculture. This agreement opens up all government procurement right down to the municipal level to international corporations, European-based or otherwise. So governments are specifically disallowed from giving any more favourable treatment to a local business or a local enterprise that could provide them with goods and services.

The other part is many farmers see this as a market opportunity in Europe for their GM crops. However, the Europeans have specifically excluded their regulations from this agreement, so market access for those who produce GM crops is not going to flow out of this agreement, although many are cheerleading the idea.

SP: What’s the message you’re hoping to send to NFU members with your opening address?

TB: In some respects we’ve had some rather large transitions in the organization this past year, a number of key employees have retired and/or left the organization and I wish to thank them for their long service to the organization.

I also wish to talk about the importance of the National Farmers’ Union as a voice in the farm policy milieu that is doing the careful analysis of trade agreements and are just not jumping on the bandwagon of market access. (We’re) carefully looking into the details of the agreement and connecting the dots and understanding what it means for farm-saved seed and the threats that farmers would come under, under such an agreement.

SP: I understand you were recently overseas — what did you learn?

TB: I was in Ethiopia and I was attending a conference there on the international treaty on plants and ag resources.

Article 9 of the treaty, which deals with farmers’ rights to seed, was looking at pressures from many nations around the world to adopt more draconian forms to supplant breeders’ rights. Farm safe feed is under attack around the world and (the conference was discussing) how important protecting this right in terms of maintaining biodiversity and maintaining any sort of economic viability for farmers is.

SP: Are farmers optimistic about 2011?

TB: First of all to be a farmer — I think we’re all secret optimists, but we are cautiously complaining, otherwise you wouldn’t plant the crop every year hoping for some returns.

I guess 2011, the wild card is that farmers are afraid if we get any amount of (spring) snow they will be confronted with not being able to seed again in a timely manner like what happened this past year.

I think farmers are hopeful that they can be optimistic, but nevertheless they understand as much as anyone how capricious the weather is and how you never really know until the crop is in the bin.