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Harper cracking under egg, dairy lobby?

Canada's egg, meat and dairy lobbies are keeping Canada out of a major free trade agreement -- and that's a bad thing, argued international trade lawyer Lawrence Herman in a recent Globe and Mail article.

Australia, Chile, New Zealand and Indonesia are some of the nations that have already joined negotiations in Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would eliminate tariffs on roughly 99 per cent of goods traded between member countries.

Canada has refused to join because it doesn't want to put its supply-managed commodities on the table. These include turkey and chicken meat, eggs and dairy. Only a small fraction of our total supply of these products come from taxed imports.

Under Canada's supply management system, farmers require quota to sell these products -- which is allocated by national and provincial marketing boards based on demand -- and they receive a guaranteed price shielded from global market fluctuations.

Herb Barbolet, a consultant on food and agriculture policy and founder of the Vancouver non-profit Farm Folk/City Folk, says the move is surprising, given the fact that in 2007 the Harper government tried to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board, which has undergone major structural changes in the past decade.

"This is a change in position," Barbolet told The Tyee. "I think they may have gotten burned over the wheat board and realized that the lobby and some of their allies are much stronger than they anticipated."

While Herman argues in his op-ed piece that these industry lobbies are "shielding the market from foreign competition," and "keep the farm-gate prices for these products high," Barbolet maintains that they are essential for farmer survival.

"The only lucrative farming that exists now is supply-managed farms or micro farms. Anything in the middle is very iffy. And disappearing," Barbolet said. "On a rational basis, supply management makes sense. So I think it's the right decision, whether or not they're doing it for the right reasons. I can only attribute it to political motivation."

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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