Western capitalism is decades into the “bigger is better” operational model. Free markets have long been governed by a continual need for expansion and growth in order to justify success. But amidst our ever-more globalized economic structure, the time has come to view this strategy as both unsustainable and shortsighted.
Be it unchecked population growth, pollution, or dwindling resources — the economic world our children grow into is sure to be more challenging than ours. Since the post-war era of industrial expansion and innovation, a dominating undercurrent of growth has been dogmatically applied to sustain the North American economic model. But what happens when we’re out of trees, land to build on, or fish in our seas? We’re quickly transitioning into an era where sustainable business practices are needed.
Amidst ongoing NAFTA negotiations, our differing national approaches to agriculture are caught up in this issue. The U.S. is the textbook poster-child of expansion, strength and dominance as the defining structure of its economic ambitions. In Canada, our approach has been more relaxed.
Using dairy as an example, the average number of cows on a B.C. dairy farm is about 127. In the U.S., it can be upwards of 10,000 at some mega-farms. While we’ve adopted new methods and technology, our farms have a small and sustainable footprint. We control our supply of milk and aim to carefully produce an amount that will supply our domestic needs. Dairy farming in Canada is still primarily a family business, which is good for rural economies, the environment, animal welfare and a host of other positives.
In the U.S., meanwhile, the size of farms expands unchecked, using size and technology to crank out ever-more milk without even establishing markets for their products. In the dairy world, this had already lead to record U.S. bankruptcy of dairy farmers, as their product is increasingly devalued, and often sold below the cost of production.
To further prop up this misaligned system, the U.S. farm bill provides a trillion-dollars-a-decade support net to artificially lower the cost of the end-product and help establish market dominance through exports by undercutting foreign competition. Sound fair? It’s not. It’s predatory economics.
As NAFTA talks continue, all this means significant risk for Canada. Neither U.S. President Donald Trump nor, frankly, the U.S. agricultural structure is playing fair. U.S. dairy overproduction issues are so large that regardless of whether they have increased access to the Canadian market, they will continue to result in the wasteful dumping of millions of gallons a year in excess milk.
Establishing market sustainability requires a change in thought. Rather than using U.S. posturing and rhetoric from the podium, Trump should cease his efforts to strike down Canadian supply management and find ways for the U.S. to implement a version of our structure. This shouldn’t be a “we versus them” issue. Trade agreements were designed to be of mutual benefit to all parties. The U.S. is attempting to strong-arm access into the Canadian dairy industry to clean up its own undisciplined production regime. We deserve better and so do U.S. dairy producers.
Canadian negotiators have done a great job at defending the Canadian dairy structure so far in the NAFTA negotiations. It’s enraging Trump.
Canadians need to realize that their food doesn’t magically appear on store shelves. It’s takes a lot of hard work by Canadians in the agricultural sector to produce the high-quality products that Canadians enjoy. Outside of our cities, agriculture is a major employer. Food sovereignty and food security are important issues. Producing our own agricultural products can’t be put at risk because a pouting foreign diplomat demands it.