Still hope for TPPA

September 30, 2015

Trade Minister Tim Groser is going to Atlanta for negotiations which could conclude the conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

Groser had been playing hard to get for the meeting, indicating a willingness to attend only if there was an improvement on the “wholly inadequate” offers of dairy market access from the heavily protected agricultural sectors in the US, Canada and Japan. . . 

Groser said last week that New Zealand negotiators could “see a very good deal for New Zealand in everything except dairy and I don’t know to characterise the deal there because it’s not a deal we could accept.”

Since then, there’s been a flurry of reports in US and Canadian media suggesting that the US is pressuring Canada to accept more dairy products from the US as part of a deal that would begin to prise open the US dairy market for New Zealand and Australian dairy products. . . 

Dairy market access is especially politically sensitive in Canada because the country faces a federal election on Oct. 19 and the country’s dairy sector is highly protected, using a system of supply management intended to match local dairy production volumes with domestic demand.

However, it appears the Harper government’s political calculus is that a dairy deal would hurt its electoral chances most in Quebec, where it is already comparatively unpopular, and that there would be political damage in being seen to walk away from a new Asia-Pacific deal and some kudos in being able to demonstrate trade opportunities for Canadian firms. . . 

This means there is still hope for the TPPA in spite of strong opposition from protected industries and those whose politics blind them to the benefits of free trade and the costs of protection.

Dairy interests must be very powerful in Canada because everyone else pays dearly for its trade barriers which increase prices and reduce choice.

Eric Crampton has a suggestion to change that with this speech he’d like to have heard from a party leader:

“Right now, Canadian dairy prices are much higher than they need to be. Mothers pay too much for infant formula; families pay too much for cheese. And the system as a whole doesn’t even benefit dairy farmers any longer: getting into the industry is expensive because buying quota eats up whatever benefits the system provides to farmers. But there is a better way.”

“We are committed to protecting the quality of dairy products on store shelves – as we are with every food product sold in Canada. But we don’t protect food quality with 300% tariffs for vegetables, fruit, or thousands of other products that cross our borders each and every day. For that, we use food inspections. The dairy quota system isn’t necessary for protecting food quality.”

“Today, we are buying back all of the dairy quota and opening the borders. Farmers should not see their retirement savings wiped out by a policy decision from Ottawa. We are able to afford to do this because dairy prices, in a competitive world market, are low enough that we can fund the buyback with a levy on all dairy products sold in Canada while still keeping prices lower than they are now. And those levies will disappear when the bill is paid in full. Canadians will have better access to the world’s products, and Canadian agricultural producers will have better access to world markets.” . . 

The economics are simple, the politics are not but Not PC shows how difficult life would be without trade in a post on the $1,500 sandwich.

. . . What would life be like without exchange or trade? Recently, a man decided to make a sandwich from scratch. He grew the vegetables, gathered salt from seawater, milked a cow, turned the milk into cheese, pickled a cucumber in a jar, ground his own flour from wheat to make the bread, collected his own honey, and personally killed a chicken for its meat. This month, he published the results of his endeavour in an enlightening video: making a sandwich entirely by himself cost him 6 months of his life and set him back $1,500. . . 

Few but the strongest anti-trade people would suggest we go back to that sort of subsistence existence.

But here in one of the freest economies in the world some people still don’t understand how much we’ve gained from free trade. The transition from the highly protected economy we had wasn’t without casualties but the gains were worth the pain.

The TPPA will bring more gains and since our borders are already so open we have little to lose.


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