WTO Agricultural Talks Break Down: Canadians Don’t Even Blink

In the next few days you’ll find your loyal scribe hawking sweet corn in front of my farm near Dresden.  Is it a tangible example of “Farmers Feed Cities” or is it one example of how our consuming public can get the best and freshest of farm produce in the land?

I’d say both.  A problem our consuming public has it is pays too much for food with limited choice.  I’d dare say if I took a survey outside a local supermarket you wouldn’t get those responses.  However, that’s what I believe.  The way big corporate interests control Canada’s food supply is a tight ship.  Canadian consumers whether they know it or not are being held captive.

I have said it many times before.  What we have is a food system where big corporate interests make a lot of money, farmers at the bottom aren’t well paid and consumers are being duped.  It’s a complex story, part of which got a little murkier this past week.  Talks at the World Trade Organization or WTO, which orchestrates world agricultural trade collapsed last week.  For Canadian consumers hoping for more food choices and some Canadians farmers looking for more opportunities it was disappointing.

For many of you this must seem very perplexing.  In Canada most people take their food for granted.  Every day people in our biggest cities go to bed never doubting that there will be food in the stores tomorrow.  Grocery stores are full.  There is fresh fruit and vegetables available in the summer.  The same thing is available at a steeper price in the winter.  In Canada, for most people, “food” isn’t an issue.  It’s seemingly everywhere.

That said it would seem the world is in fits over food.  What once was the GATT, which was set up after WWII morphed into the WTO in 1995.  It is an organization, which tries to set the rules of trade throughout the world.  Agriculture and food seemingly give it fits.  The latest talks, which started in 2001 in Doha, have collapsed specifically over agricultural issues.  It would seem many counties have different ideals about what food means to them.  It is so important, they have sacrificed an agreement of the trade of manufactured goods over domestic sensitivities on the farm.

What you say?   All of this is pretty lofty stuff for most folks.  However, it does hit home if you look at your food carefully.  If you look at your fruit and vegetables, you’ll see much of it coming from South America.  Chile is one of the biggest exporters, which you’ll recognize at any food counter in local grocery stores.  Ditto for the United States and even tiny little New Zealand.  How do they get those lamb critters all the way over to southwestern Ontario and get us to buy them?  It’s always been fascinating to me.  Can’t we raise those lambs here?

The WTO has always been the vehicle to police this trade.  So it always a huge issue on Canadian farms when the WTO gathers to try and expand trade.  At the same time its very important to some in Canada to keep restricting trade in agriculture and food.  Our dairy sector relies on it.

So when you check out the fruit and vegetables from Chile move over to the dairy counter.  Do you see any US or New Zealand milk products there?  I don’t think so.  Although those countries would love to sell their milk to Canadians, they can’t.  Canadian trade law restricts that in order to protect the Canadian dairy industry.  At the same time all the grain products in your grocery store come from almost anywhere.  The WTO looks after it all.  The collapse of those talks last week will probably sustain the status quo.

For many of you that won’t come with much trepidation.  Canadian milk and Chilean oranges suit you fine.  But how about American milk, which is 50% cheaper than Canadian milk?  Or how about grain products from Africa or more beef products from Brazil?  It sounds kind of spooky, something which Canadian consumers aren’t used to.  That’s one reason the WTO talks failed last week.  Countries with vested interests won’t give in.  Domestic political concerns constantly take over.

None of this affects me selling sweet corn.  It would seem the consuming public can understand what “fresh sweet corn” means.  I pick it within minutes or hours of them consuming it.  It beats the heck out of sweet corn from Chile, which is in our grocery store all winter.  It’s the sweetest treat of the summer.

It’s too bad it can’t be the same way for everything Canadian consumers eat. In Canada we will continue to have food everywhere.  Being force fed by corporate food giants treating the market like we’re a bunch of drones will surely continue.   Clearly the collapse at WTO will keep things as they are for now.  Yes, farmers may feed cities, but that road from the Canadian farm gate to the dinner table is a long and winding road.