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Other Nations Would Like to Follow Canada’s Supply Management Policy

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Marcel Groleau - World Congress of Agronomists and Agrologists

Marcel Groleau, President of Quebec’s Union of Agricultural Producers (l’UPA) was interviewed at the 5th World Congress of Agronomists and Agrologists conference in Quebec City over 17-21 September, 2012, by Jean-Philippe Lebleu, correspondent for 21st Century Science and Technology.

JPL : This World Congress of Agronomists and Agrologists is occurring in the context of a collapse of the financial system, and many people are now talking about financial reforms like Glass-Steagall, as we spoke about earlier. Emphasizing that it is necessary right now to change the rules of the game.

MG: Yes.

JPL: Otherwise, the situation is going to go nowhere. In this context, according to you, is there a way to really double world food production without changing those rules?

MG: Not really. I mentioned it at the end of my presentation, the next generation of policies on agriculture and food, because today you can’t simply talk about agriculture policies, there is also food policies; so, the next generation will have to be inspired by prerogatives to feed every one, not simply commercial prerogatives. This means to ensure sufficient food stocks, ensure the distribution of those stocks, ensure the encouragement of local production for basic products in each country. It is therefore an important change in the way we do things today. It’s a complete reversal.

JPL : Related to this, the Canadian policy of supply management, a policy of control and protection of food production, seems unclear for people outside the country.

MG: Yes.

JPL: Could you say a few words about the advantages of supply management in the actual context, for our international readers?

MG: When I was talking about basic products of each country, for us in Canada, products under the rules of supply management are the basis of our agriculture. It is why we want to keep what the World Trade Organization calls in its vocabulary “sensitive products”. What is found under the rules of supply management in Canada are our “sensitive products”. We want to be able to protect those products from an unreasonable competition, or international “dumping”. This is why we put tariffs on imports, to protect ourselves from “dumping”. This doesn’t stop us from commercial trade in those products, for example we imports cheese in Canada, but the quantities are controlled, we are therefore not talking about a total shutdown of commerce, it is management of trade that allows for a domestic management of production protected from unbridled trade. That’s what supply management is.

JPL : According to you, why has supply management been under attack during recent years, notably by the WTO?

MG: In a system promoting trade liberalization, supply management is abhorrent. It is uniquely for that reason. Therefore some people who want to keep this system of liberalization, do not want other nations to be inspired by Canada to use supply management for their own benefit. Thus there is a consolidated effort to prevent Canada from using that mechanism, and to especially discourage other countries from doing the same.

JPL : I wanted to ask you a question related to what we talked about earlier, regarding biofuels (box 1). After the EPA declaration in the USA, 156 members of the American Congress demanded to put a stop to ethanol production. Also, many states like Missouri, many organizations, even Cargill’s CEO and the President of Smithfield, the world’s biggest pork producer, demanded a moratorium, or a reevaluation of ethanol production. What is the UPA position on this, and could it take actions similar to those taken by other individuals and organizations, against this new biofuel policy?

MG : In Quebec, the UPA endorsed a first plan of ethanol production, about ten years ago, at a time when the price of corn was very low, and we had a surplus of it in Quebec. But today we still work in the short term, and we have difficulty working in the long term. I think the next generation of bioenergy should come from biomass and not grains. In Quebec we have an impressive amount of wood residues, hay and other organic residues that could be used to produce biofuels before grains. Therefore, I don’t think our future resides in the corn-for-ethanol sector. There is no future right now for us in this sector. The next sector will be biomass, from residues, not grains.

JPL : There must first of all be an intention to feed 9 billion people, otherwise…

MG: Otherwise it is political instability which will surround us. If we do not take on this challenge; if food prices becomes unaffordable, it is not only in Africa, in Asia or Central America that people will suffer, it is here as well. Our entire economy is based on a low cost for food commodities. It’s a good thing because this allows everybody to easily feed themselves, and it’s an important part of our economy right now. If we want to maintain our economic system, we must maintain the lowest possible costs for food. In order to do that. We must use grains and food production aimed at feeding people, only for feeding people. We must turn towards (biomass) residues to produce ethanol, and not grains.

See: To Feed the World, Change the System Robert Hux, Ph.D., reports at the 5th World Congress of Agronomists and Agrologists conference in Quebec City over 17-21 September, 2012.