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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Tuesday he will protect the supply management system used by dairy and poultry farmers even if Ottawa pursues a U.S.-led free trade deal in the Asia-Pacific region.
Harper said on Sunday the country wants to join the nine-nation Transpacific Partnership (TPP), saying he was encouraged to do so by U.S. President Barack Obama.
The announcement cast doubt on Harper's commitment to domestic farmers because his previous insistence on the supply management system - which sets producer quotas and prices on items such as milk, and slaps tariffs on imports - had been cited as a major impediment to participation in the TPP.
"This government's position in favor of supply management is very well known by producers," Harper said when questioned in Parliament on the issue.
"It's always our intention when we go to the table to make sure we ... protect and promote the interests of all Canadian sectors, including supply management," he said.
"That's the position we've taken in all the negotiations so far, including the negotiations with the European Union that the provinces, including Quebec, are party to."
Reporting by Louise Egan; editing by Rob Wilson