Free trade has become the key focus of foreign trade policy in both Canada, and around the world for several years in Canada, starting in earnest with the initial free trade deal inked with the United States.
In general terms that deal and the follow-up North American Free Trade Agreement, have been a positive from the Canadian perspective, although if anyone assumes trade is now completely free flowing they are wrong.
Over the years since NAFTA Canadian sectors including lumber, pork, and the Canadian Wheat Board have spent considerable time in court, and spent a lot of money in the process, ensuring trade access.
There is also the reality that total trade access between two countries is not likely to be something we should aspire to.
There are differences in standards and regulations to consider. It is one thing to have a free flow of goods, but one does not want to reduce the safety level consumers are accustomed to with existing Canadian laws.
At the same time there are sectors a country might wish to protect.
In Canada, when it comes to agriculture, there has been a desire to protect this country’s supply-managed sectors, dairy, poultry and eggs, and with some solid reasoning.
On the one-hand the system comes as close to assuring farmers a return based on cost-of-production as has been achieved. In agriculture where returns ebb and flow all too regularly, often leaving farmers losing money, the stability of supply management is a positive.
Consumers should also feel a level of confidence in have sectors which rely greatly on freshness, and are key elements of a balanced diet, are maintained here in Canada. The idea of fresh milk at the grocery store starting out from a cow in California, or Mexico, seems to run counter to the idea of fresh.
However, as Canada looks to broaden free trade access, supply management always seems the chip other countries want this country to sacrifice.
Canada is now considering entering into a Trans-Pacific Partnership Asian negotiation.
Greater access to Asian markets would generally be a good thing, especially as the Pacific Rim appears the likely economic driving hotbed in the years ahead.
But the United States and New Zealand, already in the loop, have said they want Canada to negotiate less protection for supply-managed sectors, a door once opened is likely to see the system eroded away over time.
Greater trade access is good for Canada as a country with the ability to far out-produce domestic needs in agriculture, and been mineral and resource rich, so we need to be at the table.
The question though will always remain how much we will give up to sign a deal.
Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.