Maple Ridge cheesemaker annoyed by trade deal

Canada set to sign a comprehensive economic and trade agreement with Europe

Emma Davison

It took a few moments for Emma Davison to absorb the details, but the more she learned, the less she liked the new trade pact between Canada and Europe.

“There will be a quarter of us left, not even. We won’t be able to compete with that price.”

Under the deal, European gourmet cheese imports will increase by 32 per cent. Already, Canada allows imports of 13,471 tonnes of European gourmet cheese each year.

Davison, one of the owners of Maple Ridge’s Golden Ears Cheesecrafters, says European cheese already has a good percentage of the Canadian gourmet market.

But if more European cheese comes into Canada tariff free, it could reduce the demand from Canadian dairies.

“We’re a country that’s supposed to be providing for itself,” Davison said. ”Our milk prices could go up.”

She added cheese makers could be the last to see the effects, while some dairies could close.

She’s optimistic about her family’s own business, however.

“I do think our niche market is going to stay as strong as it is.”

But had the new deal been in place when the Golden Ears was starting up a few years ago, Davison doubts the family business would have survived.

“Our business would not have grown if this had been approved earlier. It wouldn’t have been possible. I’m just shocked there aren’t that many people standing up to this and saying, ‘no.’”

Under the comprehensive economic and trade agreement with the European Union, 60 per cent of the gourmet cheese market will be occupied by subsidized European cheeses.

Dave Eto, CEO with the B.C. Dairy Association, said the pact allowing Europeans more access to the Canadian market was unexpected.

The association was told that last week that increases to cheese imports were not part of the deal.

“We were told there would be no change to the current system. That came as a big surprise to us.”

Total cheese production of all types, such as process and cheddar, in Canada yearly is about 425,000 tonnes.

Eto said increasing the European imports could hurt B.C.’s small cheese makers, which in turn could affect the dairy industry.

The federal government says the retail cheese market is growing by two per cent a year and that growth in five years should offset the increase in imports.

Also at issue, Eto said, is food security and the Buy Local initiative, having consumers access locally made products.

“Now, we’re almost saying the exact opposite, Now we’ll let a lot of foreign products come in, just because we feel that is an appropriate trade arrangement.”

Eto also said under Canada’s supply management system, dairy farmers get no direct subsidies, a point also made by Davison.

“We don’t subsidize our milk at all, which is why it’s cheaper in the U.S.,” Davison said.

She added that American subsidies to dairy farms work out to about 40 cents a litre.

“I’d put my milk against theirs any day for quality, vitamins and nutrients.”

According to Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, the comprehensive economic and trade agreement with the European Union will increase Canada’s income by $12 billion annually and bilateral trade by 20 per cent.

That’s worth 80,000 new jobs or an increase to the average Canadian family’s income by $1,000.

The European Union market is 2.7 times larger than the U.S. market.

“When you negotiate a trade deal, there’s always going to be some give and take,” Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MP Randy Kamp said Wednesday from Ottawa.

“We expect our businesses to compete.”

He didn’t know how cheese producers would be affected, but said Golden Ears Cheesecrafters “have a pretty strong hold in the market, I think.

“In order to complete it, there’s always going to be some people that wish the terms were different,” Kamp said of the trade deal.

“It’s a good agreement that’s going to provide significant benefits to Canadians.”

According to the government, the European deal will be larger than the North American Free Trade Agreement. It claims NAFTA created 4.5 million jobs.

The Dairy Farmers of Canada didn’t want to provide exact tonnages.

“This deal would displace our local products with subsidized cheeses from EU and risk our small businesses being shut down or put out of business.

“This is unacceptable,” the Dairy Farmers said in a release.

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