Quebec’s laws blocking sales of certain margarines, non-dairy coffee creamers and dessert toppings are the target of a new challenge from Canada’s top canola-growing province.
A dispute resolution panel formed under Canada’s Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) will hear Saskatchewan’s challenge of Quebec’s Food Products Act on Jan. 8 in Quebec City.
“We believe that these illegal restrictions in Quebec contravene rules that prohibit governments from creating barriers to trade in Canada,” Tim McMillan, Saskatchewan’s minister responsible for trade, said in a release Monday.
A ruling from the AIT panel is to be issued within 45 days of the hearing.
The AIT, whose signatories so far include the federal government and all provinces and territories except Nunavut, is meant to lower barriers to the free movement of people, goods, services and investment within Canada.
The agreement, which came into force in 1995, calls for parties to first hold consultations to settle disputes, but allows a dispute resolution panel to be requested where the matter can’t be resolved in consultations.
According to the Internal Trade Secretariat, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, with support from Manitoba, had sought consultations with Quebec in January last year, alleging Quebec’s Food Products Act puts unwarranted restrictions on the manufacture and sale of “dairy analogues and blends” in Quebec.
Specifically, the Act allows Quebec’s provincial government to designate dairy product substitutes that may be prepared, offered for sale, sold, delivered, processed, held, displayed or transported for sale.
The Act also allows the province to determine when milk or any derivative of milk “ceases to be a dairy product” and when milk is to be considered the main ingredient in the making of a dairy product. The province can also authorize standardizing of the proportion of fat and other solids of any dairy product.
Saskatchewan in June this year formally requested an AIT panel on the matter.
A strenuous defender of its dairy sector, Quebec has previously placed substantial limits on the marketing of non-dairy products such as margarine.
An AIT panel in 2005 shot down Quebec’s decades-old ban on the sales of margarine sporting the same “pale yellow hue” as butter. Until 2008, margarine could only be sold in Quebec with a lard-like whitish appearance.
“The Quebec market represents new growth opportunities for our Saskatchewan products and we will stand up for our producers and processors to ensure they are not discriminated against by unfair trade rules,” Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart said in Monday’s release.
Denise LeBlanc, a Moncton-based business lawyer, will chair the AIT panel, which will also include Quebec labour lawyer Bernard Jacob and Regina corporate lawyer Warren Sproule.
Saskatchewan noted its challenge next month will have support from the Alberta, British Columbia and Manitoba governments.
“Our members look forward to the time when vegetable oil-based alternatives to dairy products can be manufactured and sold in all parts of Canada,” Sean McPhee, president of the Toronto-based group Vegetable Oil Industry of Canada (VOIC), said in Saskatchewan’s release. — AGCanada.com Network