Will we toss aside our agricultural producers the same way we did our manufacturing sector?

The push is on to finalize negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal and the implications of a rushed deal could harm the growing agricultural sector in Northern Ontario.  While we currently protect our dairy and poultry production, these are the two areas that are set to lose under the TPP.   It could lead to a flood of cheap dairy and poultry that will push local outfits to the brink and cause them to possibly change focus or leave farming altogether.  The implications of that go well beyond the economic vitality of families or regions and show that the rush to make a deal could be clouding the judgement of negotiators.

Admittedly, the supply management system does not protect all producers, but it has ensured that we are able to supply our population while maintaining strong farms.  Dairy production has shrunk in terms of numbers of farms across Canada, but those that remain have kept up with demand and are able to make a living.  Dairy production is now mostly concentrated in Quebec and Ontario.  In the north, dairy and cattle amount to half our farms so this has the potential to hit our farmers hard.

In addition to the concerns about farms, there are implications for our food security.   Specifically, what happens if the imports suddenly become too expensive after initially knocking our production capacity down? We could be left with next to nothing and having to build from the ground up.  I am sure most people can see that it is easier to protect something you already have than to reinvent it, but that may be our future if we allow this to happen.

This is where a blind belief in the benefits of trade deals gets us into trouble.  We make arrangements that endanger one sector to promote another.   In a sense the deals are picking winners and losers, but do they have to?  When the FTA and subsequent NAFTA deals were being negotiated the rallying cry of proponents was, ‘we can compete.’  Critics raised concerns about the cost of competing, citing labour and environmental standards as well as the risk to our manufacturing sector as reasons to think twice before signing agreements.

Now that these deals are firmly entrenched we can see that our manufacturing base with its well-paid jobs has been decimated.  Growth has occurred in resource extraction and not in value-added jobs.  After trying for so long to be more than hewers of wood and drawers of water we are right back to the drawing board.  The other growth has been in service industry jobs which are notoriously unstable and don’t pay much.  Additionally, the boom of box stores has sucked wealth out of our communities and into the hands of foreign investors.  That is what ‘we can compete’ has brought about.

If we are honest we can see that it is the big producers and not the family farms that may be able to compete.  It amounts to another nail in the coffin of family farms and that is sad and dangerous.  Local production is the best way to protect a food supply.  On top of that we should note that farming has been expanding in Northern Ontario as a reaction to the high price of farmland in the south.  In addition to that nearly half of the current farming is beef and dairy related.   If we knock that pillar out from underneath the farming community, it could make for difficult years and leave us all the poorer and more exposed to foreign interests just to feed ourselves.   For those reasons it seems only prudent that we don’t rush to sign the TPP.