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Canada must be part of Pacific treaty, will defend farmers

OTTAWA - Canada must join a proposed Pacific trade pact but will also strive to protect its farmers, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Thursday, referring to pressure to scrap foreign tariffs that protect the dairy industry.

OTTAWA - Canada must join a proposed Pacific trade pact but will also strive to protect its farmers, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Thursday, referring to pressure to scrap foreign tariffs that protect the dairy industry.

A number of the 12 nations taking part in talks on a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) want Canada to start dismantling a system of protections for dairy, egg and chicken producers that is known as supply management.

That could be a political challenge for Harper in the run-up to a close-fought Oct. 19 election, especially since his Conservative Party has broad support in rural areas.

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday passed legislation vital to securing the deal, which will in theory allow negotiators to quickly hammer out the exact details.

Patience with Ottawa is running out and the United States last month openly suggested that Canada might be left out of the deal, which could be completed next month.

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Proponents say TPP would cover 40 percent of the world economy and raise annual global economic output by nearly $300 billion.

"It is essential in my view that Canada be part of that ... we are working to open those markets for Canada," Harper told a televised news conference in Quebec City.

"At the same time we are working to protect our system of supply management and our farmers ... Canada always, in our negotiations, does our best to act in the interests of all of our sectors and will continue to do that right to the end of these negotiations," he said.

Harper did not give any details about how Canada could both join TPP and protect supply management.

Canadian officials were quick on Thursday to play down a report in the Globe and Mail newspaper, which said Harper had decided Canada must sign onto TPP and start dismantling dairy protections despite the potential political cost.

"Reports of a deal are false. Negotiations are ongoing. Reports that Canada has made particular concessions are false," said a spokesman for Trade Minister Ed Fast.

A spokeswoman for the powerful Dairy Farmers of Canada lobbying group said the government had assured them it still backed supply management.

Harper made his comments in the province of Quebec, which produces 40 percent of Canada's dairy products, and where the Conservatives are aiming to win more seats in the election.

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Quebec farmers last month took out full-page adverts defending supply management.

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