Quebec cheese makers furious over Euro trade deal

10/16/2013 05:43 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
Quebec’s dairy farmers are furious about a tentative free-trade deal between Canada and the European Union that they say would endanger their livelihoods.

The not-yet-official deal would allow twice as much tariff-free European cheese across the Canadian border, in exchange for exporting tariff-free pork and Alberta beef.

That means about 30,000 metric tons of cheese produced in Europe would come to Canada. 

Currently, about 13,000 metric tons of European cheese make it across the Canadian border a year.

Alain Bourbeau of the Quebec Milk Producers’ Federation said importing more tariff-free cheese is bad news for the bottom lines of the province’s dairy farmers.

He said farmers could lose up to $10,000 a year because of reduced quotas and explained that Quebec cheese makers produce nearly three-quarters of all fine cheeses in Canada.

Bourbeau said he doesn’t think Quebec products could compete against cheaper fine cheese from Europe.

According to the Quebec Milk Producers’ Federation website, there are 13,000 dairy farmers in the province. In 2009, the industry employed over 80,000 people and contributed $5.1 billion to the Canadian economy.

Bourbeau said he didn't understand why the federal government would allow the Canadian market to be flooded with a foreign product its own work force could produce very well.

"It doesn't make sense to make food travel all around the world when the country is able to produce that food. I think we can benefit from commercial exchange, but we should be more strategic on that," he said.

Farmers elsewhere in Canada are also outraged, said Wally Smith, president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada.

“We are dismayed, we are disappointed and farmers across the country are angry,” he said.

Smith estimated up to a third of the Canadian market could be lost.

"We are shocked by the sheer magnitude of volume of access that is being given to the European union," Smith said.