Call for action has been heard ‘loud and clear,’ but there are no quick fixes, warn canola groups
Industry leaders say Ottawa is acting on farmers’ concerns, but are warning there won’t be a quick resolution to China’s de facto ban on Canadian canola seed imports.
“Several actions have been taken by both industry and government in addressing this issue in the past month,” Canola Council of Canada president Jim Everson said during a webinar on April 18.
“The government is hearing us loud and clear as an industry,” added Rick White, CEO of the Canadian Canola Growers Association. “It is very in touch with the severity of the issue and the risk and uncertainty that farmers in particular are facing.”
The two canola groups have been working with Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, the ministers of international trade and foreign affairs, the head of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and federal and provincial deputy ag ministers.
The co-ordinated effort is focused on three areas.
“Our first priority is to be able to re-establish trade with the China market as quickly as we can,” said Everson. “And we believe that in the future, demand in that market will continue to grow.”
The group is also looking at opportunities to sell seed to new markets and considering ways to financially support producers.
The canola growers’ association wants to see the amount of money loaned through cash advances doubled (to $800,000) and the interest-free portion expanded. Changes to AgriStability and AgriInvest are also being considered.
“The problem is that some of them don’t work as well as they should and are probably not covered off to face a disruption like we’re facing right now,” said White. “We have been putting forward ideas to the government suggesting what changes it can make, what changes can be made that will help and affect producers short, medium, and long term.”
The group is also looking at ways to help farmers who need more bin space to store canola, but White didn’t offer specifics on that.
“There are no good answers here, but what we are doing is making sure the government understands the pressure farmers are under,” he said. “We’re trying to come up with ideas to see us through this. This could be longer term than what we want it to be.”
The CFIA has focused on China’s contention there were unacceptably high levels of pests in Canadian canola seed shipments that resulted in the suspension of the export licences of Richardson International and Viterra.
“The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has indicated that the testing it has done on the samples taken from these vessels (that went to China) would not show the same level of concern,” said Everson. “There’s a need for a technical discussion to take place between Chinese authorities and Canadian authorities, to have a meeting of the minds about these issues.”
Ottawa has offered to send a high-level delegation to China to discuss the issue and although that has yet to lead to a meeting, White said he hopes that happens soon.
“At the end of the day, it is critical that a solution be found that is based in science and technical issues,” he said. “We definitely support the concept of a senior level delegation being able to address that.”
During the webinar, Everson was asked by a grower if his group wants to see some form of retaliation against China as its ban is widely seen as Beijing’s way of signalling its displeasure with Canada’s arrest of Huawei vice-president Meng Wanzhou at the request of U.S. government.
“I would say nothing is off the table,” Everson replied before adding that would be “a last resort.”
“Our initial goal is to be able to have a good discussion about the issues that China has raised and to resolve those through technical discussions,” he said.
China has the right to raise issues about phytosanitary and sanitary measures, but it also has an obligation to engage with Canadian officials, added White.
“We urge the two governments to get on with that,” he said.
China imports about 40 per cent of Canada’s canola seed, making it the country’s biggest seed market, and generating $2.7 billion in sales last year, Everson said.
“The good news actually about (canola) oil exports to China is that they have approximately doubled over the last two years,” he added. “At the moment, in terms of this disruption of canola seed trade, it has not been affecting the oil trade.”
In 2018, China imported 1.2 million tonnes of canola oil from Canada and 1.3 million tonnes of canola meal.
“As far as we are aware there are no other Canadian agricultural commodities that have China as a market that have been affected by this issue,” said Everson, dispelling rumours to the contrary.
Canola plantings are forecast to drop by 1.5 million acres from a year ago to 21.3 million, the smallest in three years, according to Statistics Canada’s latest seeding outlook.
— With files from Glacier FarmMedia and Reuters