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Agriculture ministers pledge to open new markets

Ministers look to ensure farmers and processors can take advantage of new global market opportunities

A statement from a meeting of Canada's agriculture ministers pledges to open new markets through trade agreements while protecting the country's eggs, dairy and poultry from foreign competition.

The ministers concluded two days of meetings in Calgary on Friday with a document outlining goals in developing a new agricultural policy framework, which is set to expire in 2018.

The statement makes a series of wide-reaching commitments that range from a promise to respect the current 60-40 federal-provincial cost-share ratio for funding, to examining how government can help reinforce confidence and public trust in the agriculture sector.

It was Lawrence MacAuley's first meeting as federal agriculture minister with his provincial and territorial counterparts.

MacAuley called the discussions productive and noted they reached common ground on a number of key areas.

He noted the Canadian agriculture sector generates over $108 billion for the national economy and is the single largest employer of all manufacturing sectors, providing jobs to one in eight Canadians.

"We want to make sure farmers and processors can continue to take advantage of new global market opportunities,'' MacAuley said in a statement Friday. "By doing so, we're also supporting Canada's economy and the middle class, which includes farmers and processors.''

The current supply management system shields Canadian farm products from foreign competition and guarantees certain farmers a price and demand for their products, but critics say it hurts consumers by keeping prices artificially high.

The statement says that while Canada continues to open new prospects through trade agreements, there are still challenges like non-tariff trade barriers and a need to adapt products for international markets.

"Overcoming these obstacles requires an ability to build on domestic strengths, create the conditions to attract investment in the sector, enable internal and foreign trade and pursue domestic and global regulatory co-operation, while continuing to preserve the integrity of the supply management system,'' the statement said.

Other priority areas outlined by the ministers included a continued commitment to scientific research for agriculture, and ensuring that farmers have a variety of risk management programs available to offset extreme weather events and pests.

Part of that commitment, the statement says, will come through promoting the development of private-sector risk management tools and that for some sectors.

It also says that, for some sectors, supply management can be considered a business risk management tool.

Departmental officials are now tasked with drafting a multilateral agreement to achieve the objectives set out in the document.

An online poll will also seek public input on the statement until Nov. 30.

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