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Does CETA offer any real value to Canadian farmers?

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On September 26, the federal government announced that negotiations for the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement with the European Union (CETA) have been finalized. A normal procedure for such a substantial change in a democratic society allows for a broad discussion, with debate and hearings, about impacts on various groups of people and economic sectors before governments commit society to a new set of rules. In contrast, the CETA negotiations have been kept completely secret.

The democratic deficit from the Conservative government's roller coaster ride of signing trade agreements is further aggravated when the terms of the agreements are considered. These agreements, including CETA, lock in negative outcomes for Canadians far into the future. 

Agriculture Minister Ritz is boasting about the possibility of new sales of beef and pork into Europe. What is certain, however, is that Canada has never fully utilized our existing tariff-free quotas for hormone-free beef exports into Europe, that Europe will not change its position on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and that its borders will not open for meat that is produced with feed additives that for health reasons are banned in Europe.

In an exchange that gains little real new access for its farmers, Canada has committed to increased imports of European cheese which is produced with heavily subsidized European milk. Consequently, Canada's domestic milk production and processing sectors will see a substantial reduction in their valuable cheese market.

The seed-related Intellectual Property Rights provisions in CETA are very concerning, as Canada has committed to making it possible for corporations to ask courts to seize farm assets and freeze farmers' bank accounts for alleged infringement of patent rights or Plant Breeders' Rights - even before the case is heard in court.

CETA offers new powers to corporations through Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanisms. If laws and government regulations result in reduced profits, ISDS empowers corporations to sue governments and be compensated.

Local governments, schools, hospitals and prisons that have adopted policies to buy food locally as a way to support community values are no longer allowed to do so. Procurement provisions in CETA force government institutions to accept competitive offers from European businesses for any contracts above fairly low thresholds.   

There is, at best, no gain for Canadian farmers in CETA. From a societal prospective, the so-called "trade" agreement gives corporations a rope to tie the hands of our elected representatives and a sword to slash laws and regulations that get in the way of their profits.

Jan Slomp is the President of the National Farmers Union. He farms near Rimbey, Alberta.

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