Mission to Geneva, Switzerland -- May 3 - 8, 2008

 
 
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 Purpose of travel:
To meet with the Canadian Ambassador and Chief negotiators, the Ambassadors of key World Trade Organization (WTO) member countries, and WTO officials to press Alberta’s interests and priorities in the agriculture negotiations.

Overview:
Minister Groeneveld’s mission to Geneva, Switzerland provided the opportunity to advocate Alberta’s trade interests, and the need for a timely and ambitious WTO agreement in agriculture.

The Minister met with Canada’s trade negotiators, high-level WTO officials, and Ambassadors from Canada, the United States, European Commission, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, China, Uruguay, and Indonesia. The Minister also met with the Agriculture Counsellor of Japan.

A successful and timely completion of the agriculture negotiations is essential for the growth and sustainability of Alberta’s producers, ranchers, and processors. It is critical that the final agreement secures new markets for Alberta products, eliminates export subsidies, and significantly reduces trade-distorting farm support in other countries.

A recent study estimates that substantial tariff reductions under the WTO could bring US$3 billion per year in additional export gains for Canadian agriculture. Export gains for beef, wheat, and pork alone could reach US$2.3 billion. The largest gains are projected for beef; (US$994 million per year), followed by wheat; ($US 690 million per), and pork; (US$651 million per year). Barley, canola, soybeans, and peas, in that order of importance, are projected to gain between US$66 million, and US$313 million per year in additional exports. Given Alberta’s export share of Canada’s total exports over US$1.1 billion of the additional export gains could accrue to Alberta annually.

Mission Objectives:

  • advocate Alberta’s interests in the WTO agriculture negotiations;
  • ensure that key WTO members understand, and comprehend Alberta’s position and interests;
  • place information in front of key decision makers that can contribute to a successful conclusion of the negotiations; and
  • gather intelligence on the proposed disciplines, rules, and options for a new agreement on agricultural trade.

Results:

May 4, 2008
  • Minister Groeneveld met with Mr. John Weekes, a former Canadian Ambassador to the WTO and Canada’s North American Free Trade Agreement chief negotiator, currently working as a senior policy advisor for Sidley Austin LLP. Areas of discussion included the state of the agriculture negotiations, potential time lines, interests of key WTO countries and Canada’s role in the negotiations.

May 5, 2008
  • Minister Groeneveld met with Canada’s Ambassador, Mr. Don Stephenson, to discuss Canada’s position, role, and approach to the negotiations. Minister Groeneveld stressed the need for Canada to push for a strong outcome that will result in commercially meaningful benefits for Alberta’s agriculture and agri-food industry.
  • The discussions with Australia’s Ambassador, Bruce Gosper, focused on Australia’s and Alberta’s shared positions regarding the agriculture negotiations. Minister Groeneveld and Ambassador Gosper agreed on the need to ensure that provisions in the agreement do not undermine the potential for an ambitious outcome. The discussion also covered the elimination of the monopoly powers of export state trading enterprises such as the Canadian and Australian wheat boards.
  • During his meeting with the WTO Deputy Director General, Mr. Rufus Yerxa, Minister Groeneveld highlighted Alberta’s interests in a strong outcome, and expressed support for the WTO multilateral trading system. Mr. Yerxa agreed on the need to conclude the negotiations sooner rather than later, and how the potential food crisis could affect the WTO negotiations.
  • The meeting with the European Commission Ambassador, Eckart Guth, focused on the leadership role the European Community (EC) should play in the negotiations. Ambassador Eckart stated that the EC is committed to finalizing the negotiations this year, and the importance of further reducing overall trade distorting support especially by the US. Minister Groeneveld expressed his support for a deeper cut in trade distorting domestic support and reiterated Alberta’s interests in meaningful market access for its agriculture and agri-food exports into the European Union market, and around the world.

May 6, 2008
  • The US Ambassador, Peter Algeier, reaffirmed that the US is committed to completing the negotiations in 2008. The Minister expressed his appreciation for the leadership role the US played in the negotiations. Minister Groeneveld stressed the need for the US to agree to a deeper cut in its trade distorting domestic subsidies, respecting international trade rules, and making the necessary changes to its Farm Bill, and domestic laws to comply with a new WTO agreement. The Minister reiterated Alberta’s position in favor of elimination of the monopoly power of the Canadian Wheat Board.
  • The meeting with Indonesia’s Ambassador, Gusmandi Bustami, touched on, among other things, the economic, social, and political implications of a WTO agreement on developing countries. Indonesia is the leader of a group of some 43 developing countries that resists significant market access into their markets. Minister Groeneveld underlined the importance of market openings by all WTO member countries.
  • WTO Deputy Director General Mr. Harsha Singh briefed the Minister on the state of the agriculture negotiations, and the progress that has been achieved. Mr. Singh pointed out the importance of reaching an agreement prior to the US elections. The Minister stated Alberta’s support for the WTO system, and that Alberta, and the majority of Canada’s agri-food sectors, want a strong and timely outcome.
  • The Chinese Ambassador, Sun Zhenyu, expressed his concern that certain WTO members may not be fully prepared for a new WTO agreement. The Minister stressed the importance of opening markets for Alberta’s agri-food sectors, the majority of which are export oriented. China’s Ambassador shared the Minister’s view on the importance of the WTO rules based multilateral trading system. The Minister also raised the issue of the disparity of Chinese import duties on canola seed versus soybeans that significantly disadvantages Alberta’s canola exports.

May 7, 2008
  • In the meeting with Mr. Gero, Canada’s Chief Negotiator, Minister Groeneveld stressed the need for Canada to advance Alberta’s trade interests, and the importance of achieving meaningful new market opportunities. Mr. Gero indicated that Canada is working hard to get the best possible for Canada’s agricultural exports.
  • The discussion with Argentina’s Ambassador, Alberto Juan Dumont, focused on the common concern that certain provisions in the proposed agreement, and the lack of real commitment by some countries, could undermine the level of ambition of the negotiations. Argentina is concerned with the resistance from other developing countries to open up their markets. The Minister underlined the need for substantially improving market access by both developed and developing countries, and eliminating or substantially reducing export and trade distorting domestic subsidies.
  • The discussion with the Uruguay Ambassador, Guillermo Valles Galmes, highlighted the similarity between Uruguay’s and Alberta’s positions on the WTO agriculture negotiations. As a major exporting nation, Uruguay is concerned with the special provisions for developing countries that would limit market access. The Ambassador also stressed the need for deeper reductions in trade distorting domestic support. Uruguay would also like stronger trade rules under the WTO. The Minister expressed Alberta’s support for new disciplines on trade remedy laws.
  • Brazil’s Ambassador, Clodoaldo Huhueney Filho, stressed that although the level of ambition on agriculture market access had decreased, a significant agreement could still be concluded. The Minister expressed appreciation for Brazil’s leadership role in the negotiations, and encouraged the Ambassador to continue to push for a strong and timely outcome.
  • In his meeting with Japan’s Agriculture Counsellor, Minister Groeneveld stressed the importance of Japan as a major trading partner, and encouraged Japan to move away from its defensive positions on market access in particular. The Minister also raised the issue of beef access into Japan. The issue of Japanese higher import duties on canola oil relative to canola seed was also raised and discussed.
  • Canada’s chief agriculture negotiator, Mr. Steve Verheul, briefed the Minister on the state of the agriculture negotiations. Mr. Verheul pointed out Canada’s major role in the discussions on sensitive products, and assured the Minister that he is advancing Canada’s export market access interests. The Minister commended Canada’s negotiators for their contributions in the negotiations, and reiterated Alberta’s position in seeing Canada advancing the interests of the majority of the industry.
  • Minister Groeneveld also held daily meetings with Alberta, and Canadian industry representatives who were in Geneva during the same period. These sessions allowed the Minister, and industry representatives to share information and views on the negotiations.

Delegation:
  • Honourable George Groeneveld, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
  • Michael Norris, Executive Assistant to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
  • Nithi Govindasamy, Director of Policy Secretariat, Agriculture and Rural Development
  • Shiferaw Adilu, Senior Trade Policy Analyst, Policy Secretariat, Agriculture and Rural Development
 
 
 
 
For more information about the content of this document, contact Shiferaw Adilu.
This document is maintained by Kelly Kempton.
This information published to the web on June 30, 2008.