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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canadian farmers will receive government compensation for any losses resulting from a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, the country's agriculture minister said on Wednesday in a discussion about the nation's protected farm sectors.
The United States, New Zealand and Australia want Canada to start dismantling a system of supply and import controls over dairy, poultry and eggs that keep domestic prices high and foreign producers at bay.
Trade ministers from 12 countries are currently meeting in Atlanta in a bid to close the TPP deal, which seeks to cut trade barriers and set common standards for 40 percent of the world economy.
Unhappy Canadian dairy farmers parked dozens of tractors in central Ottawa and walked their cows down the main street opposite Parliament on Tuesday to protest trade talks that they said could cripple them.
Conservative Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, speaking in a debate ahead of Canada's Oct. 19 federal election, said "everything starts out on the (negotiating) table," including the supply-managed sectors.
A reelected Conservative government will maintain "the pillars of supply management," Ritz said, but he did not rule out allowing more imports as Canada did in an earlier free trade agreement with Europe.
"If there is loss on your farm, (or) the processing side, you will be compensated," Ritz said in the debate in Ottawa organized by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, an organization of farm groups.
The governing Conservatives are in a tight three-way race with the Liberal and New Democratic parties (NDP). The dairy lobby is politically influential, with most of its farmers living in Quebec and Ontario, two provinces that are key to winning the election.
While eastern Canadian farmers of supply-managed products fear the impact of TPP, the majority who sell to the open market, especially in the West, desperately want a deal. Producers of grain, oilseeds, beef and pork say it's critical to join TPP to boost access to foreign markets, particularly Japan.
NDP candidate Malcolm Allen said during the Ottawa debate that putting all issues on the table is "the way you lose" negotiations. An NDP government would keep supply managed sectors "whole," but it was not clear if he meant that it would rule out any concessions.
"One (industry) is going to be a real loser and it certainly looks like it will be supply management this time," Allen said.
Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Alan Crosby