Do trade agreements substantially limit development of local / sustainable food systems in Canada?
A common view in policy and business circles is that certain elements of trade agreements (General Agreement on Tariff and Trade rules, the World Trade Organization Agreement on Agriculture, and the North American Free Trade Agreement) and the Canadian Agreement on Internal Trade significantly limit the policy and program instruments available to support the development of local/sustainable food systems. This exploratory textual analysis of select trade articles, filtered through a local/sustainable lens, suggests that Canadian governments can put in place more substantial policy and program drivers without triggering trade disputes. Of particular note is that local/sustainable foods may not be considered equivalent to imported conventional ones, and therefore many provisions of the trade agreements may not be applicable. Equally important, the rules do permit certain kinds of support, there are numerous exemptions and thresholds for application of measures, and many current actors in local/sustainable implementation may not be subject to the agreements. Based on this textual analysis, pertinent instrument design features are proposed that would allow governments and other parties to support local/sustainable food systems without triggering trade disputes.
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