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Down on the farm

Sweeping changes proposed for agriculture in Canada – too little, too late?

Make no mistakes, 2001 has not been an easy year for the majority of Canadian farmers.

Farmers in central Canada, from the western border of Manitoba to the eastern border of British Columbia, suffered through one of the worst droughts on record since the Great Depression.

Southern Ontario, one of the most agriculturally developed regions of Canada, eked through its worst drought in 50 years. Farmers estimate that between 20 and 25 per cent of crops have been lost, costing the province’s farmers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Orchard and blueberry growers on Canada’s East Coast have been stung by a more unusual problem – a lack of bees to pollinate crops – in addition to a cold spring and long periods without rain.

On the whole, there have been a variety of specific crop failures from PEI to British Columbia.

In addition, prices on many cash crops have dropped significantly as a result of competition with Third-World countries, and farmers are getting less for their wares on the international market and in domestic markets as shoppers opt for the cheaper, foreign grown, products.

While our farmers may not be able to control weather, they are desperate to gain more control over the global economic forces that somehow wound up in charge of their fates. Prior to the World Trade Organization’s Cairns Group Ministerial meeting in Brazil last week, they lobbied Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Lyle Vanclief to push for agricultural reform.

True to his word, he did.

"In the WTO agriculture negotiations, Canada’s objective is to achieve a substantial reduction or elimination of trade distorting domestic support, the elimination of export subsidies and significant improvements in market access," said Vanclief.

In other words, he said he would push for the establishment of a fair, market-oriented agricultural trading system.

In other, other words, that means a tomato at a Canadian supermarket would be priced according to a fair market value rather than the cut rate prices made possible by Third World labour, low dollars and government subsidies.

"During the last few days Canada put forward a strong case for the initiation of a wider set of negotiations which would make the achievement of a significant outcome on agriculture possible," he said.

The Cairns Group, which includes Australia, Agrentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Fiji, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Paraguay, the Philippines, Thailand, South Africa, and Uruguay – a group of mostly poorer and so-called Third World countries.

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