The United States and Canada finally signed off on a major trade deal.. ending several years of bitter dispute. But one better known, and sweeter export, maple syrup, is part of a Canadian civil war - pitting a mighty cartel against a small group of rebel producers. Joce Sterman reveals the surprising battle for Big Syrup.
TV Commerical: I sure look forward to that rich real maple flavor of Log Cabin syrup.
Let’s start with a few facts: what many Americans drizzle on their pancakes on Saturday mornings is generally not real maple syrup. 71% of the world’s real maple syrup is produced in Canada. And Canada has a little control issue.. With what you put on your breakfast.
Guide: We have 48 million pounds of maple syrup so 82,000 barrels.
A massive reserve is run by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. In this facility 125 miles northeast of Montreal, tens of millions of dollars of syrup are stashed. A controlled supply - and controlled price. It sounds like OPEC - the notorious cartel controlling much of the world’s oil. But instead of black gold.. It’s a golden, national treasure.
Simon Trepanier: In the mind of people around the world, Canada is what? What is Canada? Landscape, mountains, lakes, nature, beavers, and Maple Syrup. It's running through our veins basically.
Simon Trepanier is the director of the federation.
Simon Trepanier: Basically the federation is establishing the entire maple syrup market. At the end is always mother nature was driving the harvest. So if she’s very generous, suddenly we have a lot of syrup, over the demand basically. And the opposite is also true.
But for some, the deal was not so sweet.
Nicole Varin: Here we make the transformation. We make maple candies, maple butter.
Nicole Varin and her husband run a sugar shack in Oka, Quebec. Next year, the family will celebrate 100 years in business.
Nicole Varin: I find my customer, I make everything alone. So why now, I have to pay them?
Under federation rules, maple syrup producers must sell their syrup directly to the federation -- agree not to sell to stores or grocery chains -- and pay a 14-cent levy on each pound of syrup.
Varin sells to a few stores, and refuses to sell to the federation, so she’s facing years of fines.
Joce: What will you do if they make you pay a million dollars in fines?
Varin: It's so stupid. Maybe I got to be in jail.
Varin is one of a handful of producers who fight the federation. More than 7-thousand others have joined...about 50 have rebelled.
Trepanier: Those people are always victim. I'm a victim. They are basically libertarians on the economy so that they want, they want to do their job and they want to profit without respecting any rules.
Roger Brown: I like working in the woods, in the snow.
Across the US border, a growing syrup business sees a different angle. Roger Brown's sugar shack -- and its maze of maple syrup tubing -- is only 140 miles away, across the border in Richmond, Vermont.
Joce: Do you feel an impact from the Federation here in the United States?
Roger Brown: You have the bulk of the world’s production is supply-limited, is controlled by the federation. We are outside of that, and so we can add taps. We can grow as much as we possibly can without consequence almost. On the supply side, that’s a great place to be.
For now, American producers may be a silent benefactor of a big syrup battle just across the border.
Roger Brown: It’s somebody else kind of putting down on you and telling you what you have to do and I understand that sentiment, but I also feel like producers of an agricultural product getting together and saying no, this is the price I'm going to get, this is how much I'm going to produce, and this is how I'm going to make my living. I admire that as well.
Nicole Varin: Why I continue to fight? I fight for my grandson and my granddaughter. I won't sit on my rocking chair, I have to do something. This is my baby.
Last summer, Canada put a 10 percent duty on maple syrup - to retaliate against President Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminum.