Thursday, 13 January 2022

Sandwich cartels

A typically superb piece from Colby Cosh, looking at the real cartel villains standing between him and a decent sandwich. The Canadian Dairy Cartel strikes again. So, naturally, antitrust authorities chase after bread retailers instead.

My local grocer, without exaggeration, must now offer 40 or 50 different bread options perfectly suitable for sandwiches. There’s a mini-universe of rye breads now, and different varieties of sourdough. The whole-grain bread that children in my age cohort associated instinctively with disappointment has improved a thousand per cent. The best of these products would have seemed decadent and impossibly European if I had been handed them at age 11.

So, very well, grocers: I guess if some people are angry with you about an extra 12 cents on a loaf of Wonder Bread, or however much you’ve been clipping off unlawfully, you have no choice but to suffer the abuse and present a defence in court. I consider us square. The bread available to me as an urban shopper has gotten steadily, constantly better. Canadians can feed foreign guests without humiliation.

Unless, of course, someone intends to butter the bread. When it comes to supply-managed dairy products, price-fixing is not an abomination crying to God for vengeance, but the official long-standing policy of a long series of Canadian governments. As a result, it takes a wave of public outrage for our dairy oligopoly to rediscover the concept of quality control . Serious bakers have to engage in bootlegging to make a half-decent croissant, and our supermarket cheese aisles remain monuments to mediocrity and failure. And meanwhile, as you will have read in the Financial Post on Friday , our federal government is trampling U.S.-Canada free trade in defence of that same dairy cartel. This is, as of last Tuesday, the official finding of the dispute-resolution panel that oversees the continental USMCA trade zone. If you drill down into the dispute, you cannot help being shocked by the way Canada’s representatives have conducted themselves. 

Canada's been playing dodgy with American access to protected Canadian markets. 

Small American makers of cheese and butter thought they might have a chance to enter Canadian retail markets (free trade!), but we then did just what we promised not to do: we explicitly assigned most of the rising import quota to our own dairy processors, guaranteeing that the quota would be filled with U.S. commodity milk destined to be turned into “Canadian” value-added products.

Basically, the government acted so as to guarantee that you still won’t hurt yourself stumbling across any Wisconsin blue cheese at the grocery, and that you won’t inadvertently consume any American milk before Canadian Big Dairy has had the chance to squeeze a nickel out of it. If you argue with a dairyman about the supply management that keeps him fat and happy, by the way, he is almost guaranteed to assure you that U.S. milk is mostly white lead mixed with anthrax and filth. But the cartel he supplies is positively ravenous for that U.S. milk when a treaty requires it to be included in our import quota.

I'm not optimistic about real NZ access to Canadian markets, regardless of what Canada might have signed under CPTPP.  

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