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Irish farmers raise volume on opposition to Canadian imports in CETA

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The Irish Farmers Association has released its strongest statement to date opposed to Canadian demands for higher beef and pork quotas in the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. The IFA is asking the Irish trade and agriculture ministers, in their roles under the EU Presidency (which Ireland holds until July), "to intervene strongly at the highest level to prevent what is being flagged as a very bad deal for the Irish and European beef and livestock farmers."

"It is clear Canada is seeking access for a substantial volume of beef imports into the EU and there is no doubt the USA will be seeking a major increase in the volumes they already have on the valuable EU market," says IFA National Livestock Committee Chairman Henry Burns in a press release today. "Agriculture and particularly our hugely important beef sector cannot be sacrificed in these negotiations."

According to recent news articles, the CETA negotiations are held up to a large extent by Canada's request for higher allowances for meat exports to Europe. EU Ambassador to Canada Matthias Brinkmann told media attending a Europe Day celebration in Ottawa this month that the EU is ready to increase that quota from 23,200 tonnes (where it is now) to 40,000 tonnes a year.

Brinkamm said this is the minimum quantity that would make it worthwhile for Canadian beef producers to create a separate stream of hormone-free exports. (The EU is not willing to accept beef or pork from Canada containing hormones or antibiotics, which is most of it.) In return, say most recent articles about CETA, Canada would have to give more quota for Canadian dairy and cheese exports from Europe.

But this is not the whole story, not by far.

As CBC reports, "Aside from agriculture, the two sides have named country of origin rules for autos -- how much Canadian content must be in exports of North American vehicles -- provincial government procurement limits, drug patent protection that could potentially increase drug costs in Canada, and 'geographical indications,' the ability to claim exclusivity for products named after regions, as issues still on the table."

This confirms what the European Commission described in CETA documents leaked to La Presse in November 2012. In the third paragraph of a "landing zone" report posted to the online news journal's website, the Commission explains to EU member states that:

"… the Canadian interest on access for beef and pork as well as a set of EU offensive points that have been linked by Canada to agriculture will come to final negotiation at the same time. This concerns in particular the remaining open points in the areas of GIs (geographical indications), Wines and Spirits, IPR (intellectual property rights) and Procurement market access."

In other words, the CETA end-game as they call it is not down to meat vs. cheese but a grand bargain on a potpourri of politically toxic reforms that will infuriate large sections of Canadian society. At stake is the ability to "buy local" at the municipal and provincial level, develop independent and balanced copyright or pharmaceutical policies, and to promote local wines in provincial liquor stores among other issues. Where's the "trade" in any of those trade-offs?

Making things more frustrating, the National Farmers Union has pointed out that Canada used less than half its existing hormone-free beef quota in 2011 and none of its antibiotic-free pork quota, begging the question of why getting more quota would be of any consequence to Canada let alone be creating such a problem in the CETA negotiations.

CETA would certainly have consequences for Canadian cheese makers and dairy farmers under the proposed arrangement, says the NFU. Europe exported 200,000 more tonnes of cheese and curd in 2011 (682,000 tonnes) than Canada produced in total that year. So while Canadian beef and pork producers will have to create an entirely new stream of hormone-free meat ("the good stuff," as I like to call it), which could take years to put in place, Canadian dairy farmers will feel the immediate sting of allowing significantly more European cheese into Canada tariff-free.

The IFA's Burns says today that "any increase in beef imports into the European Union will have very damaging economic, environmental and social consequences across rural communities in Ireland and Western Europe that depend on livestock production for their livelihoods." The same is true the other way around.

A trade deal should make economic and social sense to the greatest number of people possible. The bargain the Harper government seems willing to make in CETA -- more meat quota for virtually everything the EU is asking of Canada -- will, like most Conservative policies, make a tiny minority in Canada slightly better off, and even that's not guaranteed.

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