Canada’s food sector counting on NAFTA negotiators to keep them in the game

A group of young farmers staged a protest outside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s riding office in Montreal today, sending a message to Canadian negotiators to keep fighting for them at the NAFTA table.

Julie Bissonnette, one of the organizers, told CBC News they want to remind those negotiators that as Canada decides which concessions it must make to reach a new North American trade agreement, their future is on the line.

Hundreds of younger farmers were expected to join the protest from as far away as Alberta, Manitoba and New Brunswick. While many represent Quebec’s politically-active dairy sector, farmers in other sectors are worried as well.

In 2017, Statistics Canada reported that the average age of a Canadian farmer was 55. More farmers are over 70 than under 35.

If negotiators feel forced to settle for compromises that harm Canada’s rural economy, those older farmers could push for taxpayer compensation — simply sell out and retire.

The more difficult question is how to craft an agreement that makes it possible for younger farmers to stay in the game. The agriculture and food sector remains a top employer overall in Canada, with many competitive advantages internationally.

Trade negotiators have to make sure it stays that way. The leader of Canada’s negotiating team, Steve Verheul, comes from an agriculture trade background, so there’s no question he understands what’s at stake.

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