GATT Talks Worry Canadian Farmers

By Ron Friesen, | The Christian Science Monitor, January 22, 1992 | Go to article overview

GATT Talks Worry Canadian Farmers


Ron Friesen,, The Christian Science Monitor


A PROPOSAL by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) to liberalize world agricultural trading rules is drawing mixed reviews from Canada's 270,000 farmers.

Grain growers are leaning toward it because they desperately need a reduction in European and United States export subsidies which have driven grain prices to near-record lows. But dairy and poultry producers warn that they could be forced out of business if Canadian import controls are eliminated.

The quandary reflects the economic, linguistic, and regional challenges that already confront Canada.

The proposal by Arthur Dunkel, director general of GATT, would lower European and US export subsidies by 36 percent over the next eight years, starting in 1993. It would also convert all Canadian import restrictions to tariffs (called "tariffication") and reduce them by an average of 36 percent over six years.

Mr. Dunkel's proposal is a last-ditch effort to save the five-year-old GATT talks which have stalled over the issue of agriculture. Member nations have an April deadline to finish negotiations. Current proposal better than alternatives

Canadian advocates say the deal, although far from perfect, could be a boost to Western Canada's 140,000 grain farmers, many of whom have been driven to the brink of financial ruin by the subsidy war between the US and Europe. "If we turn our backs on it, the downside is much worse," says Harvey McEwen, past president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association.

Yet opponents argue that tariffication would be damaging for Canada's 37,000 dairy and poultry farmers whose industries depend on production quotas and import controls. "We remain convinced that the Dunkel proposal will be disastrous, spelling the end for any hope of a viable dairy, egg, or poultry industry in Canada," says Louis Balcaen, a Manitoba milk producer and president of the 32,000-member Dairy Farmers of Canada.

In Canada, milk, eggs, chicken, and turkeys are "supply managed" commodities. …

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