10/17/2013 03:04 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

B.C. cheese makers to face more European competition

Some B.C. dairy farmers are cheesed with a federal deal that will double the limit of tariff-free imports of certain European cheeses.

The expected increase in cheese trade is a part of a larger trade deal between Canada and the European Union that covers nearly all sectors of economic activity, including the dairy industry, and will create one of the world's largest free trade zones.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is in Brussels today to finalize the deal, called the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), after a lengthy negotiation process that began in 2009.

There are currently 20 cheese makers operating in B.C., but only 12 will directly compete with new imports from Europe, which are limited to high-end cheeses.

Dave Eto, CEO of B.C. Dairy, says he was shocked to learn about the finalized deal and that he was only made aware of the details on Tuesday.

Eto says that although Ontario and Quebec are Canada's primary cheese-producing provinces, B.C.'s growing cheese sector is going to take a serious hit when high-end European cheeses hit shelves.

"Well, the majority of the processors and the producers may be in Quebec and Ontario, but B.C. has a thriving cheese economy as well," he said. "I can only hasten to guess that any individual processor who is manufacturing fine cheeses right now is going to feel some impact."

Eto is not alone in his concerns. On Wednesday, Dairy Farmers of Canada released a press release decrying the deal, saying that the increase in product from subsidized European dairy farms will "risk our small businesses being shut down or put out of business."

It is not yet clear when CETA will come in to effect.