Quebec leaders praise Trudeau's stance on Trump tariffs, call for clearer position on dairy

U.S. President Donald Trump's recent criticism of Canada's dairy tariffs has caught the attention of industry leaders in Quebec as the province contains nearly 50 per cent of the country's dairy farms.

U.S. President Donald Trump sets his sights on Canada's dairy tariffs, sparking concern in Quebec

Quebec Dairy Producers Executive Director Alain Bourbeau says he appreciates Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's strong stance as trade tensions heat up with the United States. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Caught in the crosshairs of belligerent trade rhetoric coming from the U.S., Quebec's dairy industry says it appreciates the cover being provided by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

But dairy producers would feel even better if Trudeau went further in his promises to protect Canada's supply management system, Alain Bourbeau, head of the Quebec Dairy Producers, said Monday.

Bourbeau, who represents Quebec's 5,300 dairy farms, said the prime minister "has a strong position. We really appreciate that."

Speaking to CBC Montreal Daybreak, he added: "We will appreciate it more if he would be clearer on the fact that he has to give no more concession on dairy."

During the recent G7 summit in La Malbaie, Que., U.S. President Donald Trump called on Canada to dismantle the supply management system, which includes tariffs on imported dairy products.

Trump hinted that if Canada doesn't comply, he would move to further curtail the trading relationship between the two countries. He recently imposed tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.

Ahead of the summit, Trudeau said "we will always defend our supply management system." On Saturday, after it ended, he told reporters that Canadians "will not be pushed around" by Trump's tough talk on trade. 

Trump was quick to shoot back on Twitter, calling Trudeau "very dishonest" and "weak." He wrote, "Our Tariffs are in response to his of 270% on dairy!"

Charest says Trump's threats should be taken seriously

The tweets are "another example of a cherry-picking approach" toward understanding how supply management works in Canada, Bourbeau said.

Canada's dairy industry is tightly controlled with a quota system and restricted imports. The government levies a tariff of 270 per cent on milk, 245 per cent on cheese and 298 per cent on butter in an effort to keep imports out and tightly control supply.

But Canada imports 10 per cent of its dairy consumption, said Bourbeau, whereas the U.S. imports only three per cent and Europe less than two per cent. 

Ahead of the G7 summit in La Malbaie, Que., Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said 'we will always defend our supply management system.' (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The U.S. sold $631 million in dairy to Canada in 2016 while Canada sold $112 million to the U.S.

Supporters of Canada's supply management system also point out that the U.S. subsidizes its own dairy farmers.

Former Quebec premier Jean Charest, speaking with Daybreak on Monday, said the U.S. would have to first eliminate those subsidies before a serious discussion could be had about the future of supply management in Canada.

"We do protect our dairy industry," said Charest. "Yes, there are high tariffs. But, you know what, the Americans also subsidize their farming sector. They subsidize it with billions of dollars."

Charest lauded Trudeau's willingness to push back against the American demands. But, he added, Trump's comments should be taken seriously given the U.S. president "does tend to follow through on threats."

Quebec's dairy producers hope Trudeau continues to hold his ground on supply management. 

"Mr. Trudeau, so far, is strong," said Bourbeau. "His speech is in a good direction. We ask Mr. Trudeau to be clearer. To support dairy producers, he has to be clear that there's no rationale for giving concessions to Mr. Trump."

With files from The Canadian Press and CBC Montreal's Daybreak


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