Chris Groenendijk, a dairy farmer in the Cowichan Valley, worries that the federal government will give away too much on the free trade talks with the U.S. and jeopardize the nation’s dairy industry. (File photo)

Chris Groenendijk, a dairy farmer in the Cowichan Valley, worries that the federal government will give away too much on the free trade talks with the U.S. and jeopardize the nation’s dairy industry. (File photo)

Cowichan Valley dairy farmer wary as NAFTA talks continue

Chris Groenendijk fears for the industry’s future

Chris Groenendijk wonders how much the federal government is willing to give away in the ongoing free-trade talks with the U.S.

Groenendijk, who owns a 300-acre family-run dairy farm with 150 cows in Westholme, said Canada’s dairy industry is only so flexible, and if the government keeps chipping away at it, it won’t be long before it snaps.

“Supply management has been modified and eroded many times over the years already, and now there’s talk of the government giving away yet another chunk of it,” he said.

“How much do they intend to give away? Every bit they give away comes off the industry’s profit margins.”

Supply management limits the amount of a particular product being produced through the use of a quota system so that the market doesn’t get flooded with excess, which creates an unstable marketplace and drives prices down for producers.

Canada currently levies tariffs on imported dairy products, including 270 per cent on milk, 245 per cent on cheese and 298 per cent on butter, in an effort to restrict imported products and tightly control supply.

The egg, poultry, and sugar industries in Canada are also protected by the supply management system.

But U.S. President Donald Trump is insisting that Canada will have to dismantle its supply-managed system and allow more American products to be sold in the country, or else the U.S. will dramatically curtail its trading relationship with Canada.

While Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to protect Canada’s system of supply management during the ongoing free trade talks with the Americans, he has also indicated he’s willing to be flexible on allowing some limited additional imports, as was done in the Trans Pacific and European Union trade deals.

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But Groenendijk said if Trudeau and his negotiating team, led by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, keep giving in to demands to even partially dismantle the supply management system, it will destroy the livelihoods of the nation’s dairy and poultry farmers.

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“Farms like ours are very important to rural communities,” he said.

“Farmers spend a lot of money in these communities and provide many steady pay cheques to their residents.”

Premier John Horgan and Lana Popham, B.C.’s Minister of Agriculture, issued a statement on Sept. 11 in support of British Columbia’s dairy industry in light of the difficulties in the free trade negotiations.

The statement said that as negotiations continue, Horgan and Popham want to reinforce that the B.C. government remains a steadfast advocate for more than 7,850 people working in B.C.’s dairy industry.

It said that with 479 licensed milk producers and 52 provincially licensed dairy plants, the province’s dairy industry accounts for almost nine per cent of the Canadian market.

“B.C. continues to stand behind Canada’s supply management system, which includes the dairy industry,” the statement said.

“We will keep working with our federal colleagues to help best protect B.C.’s dairy industry as these important and challenging negotiations continue. We thank Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and her team, for their dedicated efforts to conclude negotiations that best protect Canadian interests.”



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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