EU gives Canadian beef producers win on quota as Ottawa readies to unveil pact

OTTAWA – Canadian beef producers have been assured they will have the ability to export close to 70,000 tonnes of beef to the European Union under a new free-trade deal being unveiled Friday in Brussels.

The quota is almost twice the 40,000-tonne number former EU ambassador Matthias Brinkmann said in May the Europeans were willing to concede to Canada in return for Canada opening up its market to more imports of cheese.

Sources close to the industry say Canadian pork producers will be given an even bigger quota, but did not give a specific number.

The Canadian Agri-food Trade Alliance is hailing the deal, predicting it will boost exports of beef and pork by $1 billion once farmers gear up supply in hormone-free livestock.

But dairy farmers are upset with the loss of quota to mainly French cheese exporters, saying the doubling of imports to about 31,000 tonnes puts Canada’s fine cheese manufacturers in jeopardy.

The government says Canadians will get a first peek at the mammoth free trade deal early Friday morning, including most of the details on quotas. Officials are calling the deal an agreement in principle because a text still needs to be drafted.

Reporters in Ottawa will receive an early-morning briefing on the deal before Prime Minister Stephen Harper and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso take part in a signing ceremony in Brussels at about 7:30 ET.

Government officials say the deal with the 28-member EU, known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, is the most ambitious Canada has ever attempted, encompassing every sector of the economy from automobiles to financial services, intellectual property to government procurement.

The deal is expected to call for the phasing out of tariffs on European automobiles, while giving Canadian domestic manufacturers the potential to increase sales into the continent to 100,000 units, from the current 13,000.

Canada has also agreed to extend the life of patented brand-name pharmaceuticals up to two years, which critics say potentially could drive up costs for provincial drug plans and consumers by about $1 billion.

News of the deal has met with wide support among business groups in Canada, but also drawn criticism from unions, civil society groups, and dairy farmers.

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