Quebec cheesemakers worry CETA deal could harm local industry

Dairy producers and cheesemakers in Quebec are worried that once it's ratified, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement signed in Brussels over the weekend will disrupt the provincial industry.

European trade deal to allow 16,000 tonnes of fine cheeses to enter Canadian market

Cheesemakers in Quebec are about see more competition from European producers following the signing of CETA, Canada's free trade deal with the EU. (The Canadian Press)

Dairy producers and cheesemakers in Quebec are worried the new Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) signed in Brussels over the weekend could seriously disrupt the provincial industry.

Canada's trade agreement, which must now be ratified with the 28 member states of the Euopean Union, will open a bilateral quota of 17,700 tonnes of cheese – 16,000 tonnes of high quality cheeses and 1,700 tonnes of industrial-grade cheeses.

"It's a guaranteed access that has been given to the Canadian … market. The magnitude of the concessions that have been made is very huge," said Alain Bourbeau, Quebec Dairy Producers' general manager, in an interview on CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

"We already give access to more than 20,000 tonnes to our market. Fine cheeses in Quebec represent between 50,000 to 90,000 tonnes. If there's 16,000 tonnes more coming in the country, it represents between 20 and 30 per cent concessions to the largest cheese processors in the world. So the pressure will be very big here."

Quebec has the highest milk production in the country, making up 51 per cent of Canada's cheese production.

Its largest dairy-processing companies are Agropur, Saputo and Parmalat.

Bourbeau expects the CETA deal will "displace the product share of milk that my members are able to do, and it will certainly replace the cheeses that all cheese processors in Canada are able to make."

Artisanal cheesemakers less to worry about

Gilles Jourdenais, a cheese expert and the owner of Fromagerie Atwater, agrees the big players will feel the pinch, but he says artisanal cheesemakers have no reason to worry once the CETA deal is ratified.

"For the small Quebec producers, yes, there will be an extra competition – you can't expect an extra 16,000 tonnes not to disturb anybody – [but] I know they are well received here," Jourdenais said.

"If I sell a Brie-style pasteurized product from Canada and I buy a pasteurized Brie-style from Europe, the consumer will decide who he wants to encourage."

"I've always said, since I've been in the local cheese landscape, 'You don't buy a Quebec product because it's cheaper. You buy a Quebec product because it's good and you want to support the local player.'"

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak