Dairy farmers rally in Montague, P.E.I.
Rally in Montague highlights concerns about supply management, tariff-free milk protein
More than 100 dairy producers and their supporters from around the Maritimes protested outside federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay's office in Montague, P.E.I., on International Milk Day Thursday.
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They are concerned about the impact recent international trade deals will have on their livelihoods, which depend heavily on maintaining a supply-managed dairy industry. Dairy farmers in Canada operate on a quota system. which means there is a limit to the amount of product each producer can sell.
Farmers are also concerned about diafiltered milk — which is a milk protein product that has been both filtered and diluted. It's used in cheese making, and enters Canada tariff-free from the United States.
Diafiltered milk from the U.S. reduces the amount of Canadian milk needed for cheese production, which results in millions of dollars in lost revenues for Canadian farmers, said Harold McNevin, chairman of the Dairy Farmers of PEI.
MacAulay was unable to address the protesters because he is in China for G20 agriculture meetings.
"It's good for them to protest," he said in a telephone interview from China. "But you know it also involves a trade issue and it is not simply diafiltered milk. There's a number of other issues that need to be dealt with and hopefully that we can."
Currently, 10 per cent of Canada's dairy sector is set aside for foreign imports, but the Trans-Pacific Partnership would allow another 3.25 per cent to come in.
The Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement, meanwhile, would give European cheeses an additional two per cent of the Canadian market.
"That's taking marketplace away from Canadian producers and Canadian processors, it's gone forever," said Kent MacDonald, vice-chairman of the Dairy Farmers of P.E.I. "Once we allow those imports, that has reduced the amount of milk and product that we can sell in Canada."
MacAulay expects the CETA to be ratified next year. The TPP was signed in February, but the 12 member countries have two years to ratify it.
Before last October's federal election, the former Conservative government announced $4.3 billion would be set aside to offset any losses to farmers from the trade deals. The Trudeau government has not committed a dollar amount on a compensation deal, but MacAulay said he hopes to have a package ready in the next month or so to present to government.
"That's one of the things that we have been working on over the last three weeks," he said.
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With files from Stephanie Kelly