Canada is negotiating a trade agreement which could have serious negative consequences for food production and procurement in the country - and you've probably never heard of it. Or if you have, you don't know much about it. Because it's being negotiated behind close doors, in secret.
Its full name is the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement between Canada and the E.U. - but everybody calls it by its initials: CETA. The indications are that CETA will, unlike other trade agreements around the world, include rules about agriculture and food purchasing. If the indications are true it means that Europe with its advanced food production and marketing capabilities will be able to tell Canadian municipalities such as Peterborough that they cannot favour local producers and suppliers. Preferential treatment is how many cities in Canada build local development and employment. If the CETA deal goes through it doesn't matter if the farmer down the road produces beautiful apples. If they are a few cents more expensive than European apples then too bad: the city has to buy from the European producer. That's the deal.
Since the agreement is being negotiated by the federal government in secret, details about CETA are hard to come by. Yet what is known about the proposed agreement has many organizations concerned about the future of food production oand supply in the country. For example, in March of last year, Toronto City Council voted to ask the federal government to give the city a permanent exemption from the Canada-European trade agreement. It was prompted to do so by the Toronto Food Policy Council which reports to the Toronto Board of Health. A report prepared by the Food Council described its main concern this way: "One of the City's main public policy levers is procurement. CETA explicitly restricts the powers of municipal government to support local businesses and direct spending to create employment, environmental benefits, and other social or economic priorities."
The reason agriculture is left out of most multinational trade agreements is that the industry is so tied to entrenched national policies that no global level playing field is possible. The Toronto Food Council reports that, in 2004, farmers in Europe received subsidies of about $6 a bushel. U.S. farmers got $2.50 a bushel, and Canadian farmers received subsidies of only 40 cents a bushel. In other words, the much larger, more subsidized European corporations will have much greater economic power - in Canada - than Canadian producers. If you care about food - who has access to it, how it is produced and how it is distributed - then you should care about CETA.
Because it is being negotiated without any public hearings, CETA will come out of the negotiations as a fait accompli, without any public input and be presented to Parliament with little time to discuss its implications for people who eat food in this county - and that's all of us.