World Grain News: Canada spells out initial position in W.T.O. agriculture talks

by Teresa Acklin
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   OTTAWA — The complete elimination of export subsidies as soon as possible, substantial reductions in trade-distorting domestic support, and substantial improvements in market access form the nucleus of Canada's initial position in the World Trade Organization negotiations on agriculture.

   Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Lyle Vanclief and International Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew outlined Canada's initial negotiating position Aug. 19 at an Ottawa press conference. The agriculture negotiations will be launched at the third W.T.O. Ministerial Conference, Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in Seattle, Washington, U.S.

   “Canada's initial negotiating position was developed through two years of extensive consultations with industry stakeholders and the provinces,” Minister Vanclief said. “We now have a strong and unified negotiating position that reflects the broad trade interests of the entire Canadian agriculture and agri-food sector.” Minister Pettigrew added, “The Canadian agriculture and agri-food sector has demonstrated its international competitiveness. Better and more equitable rules will enhance Canadian opportunities in foreign markets, creating jobs in Canada.” Mr. Vanclief and Mr. Pettigrew said the strongest message ministers received during the consultation process was the need to “level the playing field” by reducing inequities between countries in the provision of subsidies and access to markets.

   In pressing for the elimination of export subsidies, Canada will seek “rules to ensure that government-funded export credit and export credit guarantee programs, export market promotion and development activities, certain types of food aid, or other forms of export assistance do not become a substitute for export subsidies.” A second key theme was the need to maintain Canada's ability to choose how to market its products, including through orderly marketing systems such as supply management and the Canadian Wheat Board, the ministers said. The federal government is committed to preserving the ability of Canadians to operate the orderly marketing systems necessary for stability and profitability, they said.

   A background statement accompanying the position announcement added, “If other countries have concerns regarding alleged trade effects of orderly marketing systems, Canada is prepared to discuss any factual concerns. But Canada will not engage in sterile debates over alternative marketing philosophies.” A third theme was the need to expand opportunities for value-added products and build on Canada's successes in the North American market with the goal of further expanding Canada's C$22 billion in agriculture and agri-food exports.

   The Canadian ministers pointed out that the position announced last week is a starting point for entering the negotiations and will be developed further as the negotiations proceed. The negotiating process, they added, is expected to last at least three years.