SUMMERSIDE – Ottawa needs to ensure dairy processors have a level playing field under the new Canada-EU trade agreement, says Chad Mann, business development manager for Amalgamated Dairies Limited.
“We’re all for a free and fair trade agreement,” he said. “We do have some concerns on increased market access. We are a co-op, owned by 180 dairy producers on P.E.I. They’d be impacted in two ways: one, by increased cheese quota coming into the country and secondly, by being owners of one of the largest specialty cheese processors in the country.”
Mann said, prior to the agreement, European processors were allowed to export 14,000 metric tonnes of cheese to Canada. Under the new agreement, that number more than doubles to 31,000 tonnes.
“That’s supposed to be implemented over a five- to seven-year period but we really haven’t gotten clarification on that,” he said. “There are a lot of details in the agreement that aren’t being released until Tuesday. I’ll be the first to admit the concerns about how quickly this was announced, the fashion in which it was announced, and how quickly they're trying to have it signed. It leads me to believe that it’s something that’s going to be pushed through rather than looked with a second set of eyes to ensure that everything we want is what we need, not only for the dairy industry, but also for Canadians in general.”
Mann said the U.S. trade agreement, signed in 1988-89, was a document that Canada and the U.S. had worked out for a very long time and a lot of effort was put in by both parties. Both countries relied extensively on a large volume of trade. Canada at that time had a dollar that traded well below par compared to the U.S.
“Now we’re entering into another trade partnership here, the trade between Canada and Europe is a much smaller scale and the exchange right? With the strength of the Canadian dollar, may favour a different market,” he said. “So, the benefits may just not be quite as clear as the U.S. on both a dollar and a geographical sense.”
Mann said while growing markets, new markets and new business are positive factors, there has to be an understanding of what these new markets are.
“The European cheese market is quite different than the Canadian cheese market,” he said. “European processors are much larger in general than the Canadian processors and have been around a lot longer, are more established and potentially have geographical indicators with many of the products that they do, which would give them an advantage of not only size but also patent-wise or trademark.”
“If we’re going up against somebody that’s two, three, four, five times our size and control all the cards in the deck on trademarks and patents on cheese, then it may be a pretty rough go,” Mann said. “Hopefully there’s insight in our leaders and negotiators to make sure the industry here is just not sold out.”
The deal is an agreement in principle and still has to be ratified. There still has to be a negotiation process on how these changes will be implemented and administered in the future.
“It’s my view that dairy farmers of Canada and processors will voice some concerns when they see the details on this and will have the ability to challenge and make sure that measures are implement to make sure we have a fair and level playing field,” Mann said.