The proposed trade deal between Canada and Europe is supposed to benefit Canadians, but cheese makers aren’t sure yet if that includes them.
The fine points of what is officially titled the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement are still being hammered out. One detail has already been made public however: Canada will allow twice as much European cheese to be sold in the country. This is making some Ontario cheese makers take notice.
“They have thousands of years of experience,” said Ruth Klahsen owner of Monforte Dairy in Stratford, Ont. “We have a lot to learn about making good cheese.”
Klahsen adds the consumer will benefit from a better selection of quality cheeses, but the local economy will suffer. “We buy from local dairies and contribute a large chunk of their income. They produce locally and sustainably and that’s good for everyone,” she said.
The federal government is considering compensation for dairy farmers who lose money as a result of the agreement.
“Stuff like this always comes down to votes,” said Walter Schep, owner of Thunder Oak Cheese Farm. “There’s more dairy farmers than cheese makers. Whoever gets the vote, that’s who gets the money.”
The proposed free trade agreement with the European Union has been touted by Stephen Harper as “a historic win.” The prime minister went on to call it “the biggest deal our country has ever made,” during a joint press conference with EU president Jose Manuel Barroso.
It’s unlikely Canadians will see the final text of a deal any time soon. The bill still needs to be approved by the EU’s 28 member countries and all Canadian provinces and territories, a process that could take two years.
The current quota for cheese imports to Canada is 20,000 tonnes, with the tariff for out-of-quota cheeses set at 245 per cent. This “greatly inhibit[s] the export of EU cheeses to Canada, despite consumer demand,” according to a joint study between the European Commission and the Government of Canada.
Schep and Klahsen’s operations both produce 40 tonnes annually, but they’re optimistic their business models will see them through.
“People can come in, they can watch the cheesemaking, they can see where there food comes from so they have a lot of security from that,” said Schep.
Neither cheese maker has expectations for financial assistance from Ottawa.
Said Klahsen, “I hope I don’t need to ask for it.”