British Columbia

'It's not a level playing field': B.C. dairy farmers concerned about Trump's trade comments

U.S. president Donald Trump tore into Canada’s agricultural policy at the recent G7 summit in Quebec this week and dairy farmers across the country are worried.

Donald Trump is critical of Canada’s agricultural policies on imports

Donald Trump's criticism about the restrictions on importing U.S. dairy products to Canada has some farmers worried. (Jaela Bernstien/CBC)

U.S. president Donald Trump tore into Canada's agricultural policy at the recent G7 summit in Quebec this week and dairy farmers across the country are worried.

Clarke Gourlay, the co-owner of Morningstar Farm on Vancouver Island, says it would be difficult for small local farmers to compete against U.S. farmers if restrictions on imports were lifted and access to the market opened.

"It's not a level playing field," he said. "The question for Canadians is whether the playing field is worth protecting."

Trump has been critical of the large tariffs on U.S. imports — up  to 270 per cent on milk, 245 per cent on cheese and 298 per cent on butter. He calls the system unfair to American dairy farmers and has advocated for it to be changed.

But Gourlay argues tariffs and restrictions on imports are necessary to protect small farmers like him. His farm of about 50 milking cows produces cheese for a B.C. market.

"If we value being able to produce a certain amount of our own food and certain types of food, then we can make the choice to protect that market for our own farmers," he told Gregor Craigie, the host of CBC's On The Island

Extra costs

U.S. and Canadian farmers face very different production costs, Gourlay explained, from government subsidies to U.S. farmers for corn, to a warmer climate in places like California.

"We have to protect cows in the winter. We have to feed them. We are not allowed to use the hormones. We have to pay [at least] minimum wage for our staff," he said.

"I don't think we could compete quite honestly."

It seems unlikely that supply marketing would be wiped out, he said, but the worry is about what trade agreements the Canadian government might agree with to appease Trump.

"The big concern, of course, is NAFTA and what kind of concessions are made around access to dairy," he said. "We'll have to adjust our farm accordingly."

Read more from CBC British Columbia.

With files from On The Island.

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