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Stalled Colombia FTA Stymies Prairie Wheat Exports

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The Canadian Wheat Board is waiting to see some movement on Canada’s free trade agreement (FTA) with Colombia, where the board now has no edge against other exporters’ duty-free access.

Canada and Colombia signed their FTA last fall. The legislation to implement it was introduced in March and has since been stalled at second reading in the House of Commons, the CWB said in a release.

In the meantime, Colombia has a 15 per cent tariff on wheat imports which puts Canadian wheat at a $40-per-tonne disadvantage to Argentina’s, which has duty-free access.

The U.S. and Colombia also plan to ratify an FTA that would grant U.S. wheat immediate tariff-free access, the CWB said.

The Alberta Barley Commission issued a release supporting the CWB’s call for quick ratification of the deal. It said delaying the agreement, initially signed in November 2008, threatens some $135 million of barley and wheat exports annually.

“Our industry has worked tirelessly to establish trading relationships with Colombia,” Commission CEO Mike Leslie said. “Our producers do not want this opportunity to evaporate. And they especially do not want to see this business go to competitors in the U.S.A. and Argentina.”

“Colombia is an important, nearby market for high-quality Prairie grain,” CWB CEO Ian White said. “We urge all members of Parliament to support this deal and ensure that western Canadian farmers do not lose sales opportunities to their U.S. and Argentine competitors.”

About 400,000 tonnes of wheat and 40,000 tonnes of malting barley are exported each year from Western Canada to Colombia, the CWB said.

Wheat groups in the U.S. have already complained that Argentina and Canada have begun to chip away at dominant U. S. market share in Colombia, the board noted.

Colombia did move last month to allow Canadian beef into the country, thus ending a ban that dates back to the discovery of Canada’s first domestic case of BSE in an Alberta cow in 2003.

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