Trade ‘balancing act’ in focus at ag ministers’ meeting

With foreign governments urging Canada to open up its protected dairy, poultry and egg markets, the country’s provincial agriculture ministers are unanimously counter-urging in supply management’s defense.

Pressure from trading partners and strong regional support in principle for supply management are nothing new. But Canada’s annual ag ministers’ meeting, held this week in Charlottetown, wrapped ahead of international talks starting later next week on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The TPP, a proposed 12-nation Pacific Rim trade deal, includes not only Canada but major dairy and poultry exporting nations such as the U.S. and New Zealand. Negotiators are to meet July 24-27 in Maui, followed by a ministerial meeting July 28-31.

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Canada also faces domestic pressure to stay at the TPP negotiating table, from beef, pork and grain producers aiming not just to expand but to preserve their access to TPP markets such as Japan.

In that context, Quebec’s Agriculture Minister Pierre Paradis said Friday, Canada’s provincial ag ministers “unanimously” recognized the importance of maintaining the integrity of the supply management system, particularly as it relates to TPP negotiations.

“It’s a clear message that the ministers gave today,” he said in a statement separate from the ministers’ joint release, noting their support comes at a “crucial moment” in TPP talks.

The ministers recognize the need to remove trade barriers for Canadian goods, but “not at the expense of the supply management system,” Prince Edward Island’s Alan McIsaac, the meeting’s host and co-chair, said on a conference call with reporters Friday morning.

“We see value in the supply management system in Canada and we don’t want that tampered with.”

Asked about a resolution at this week’s Dairy Farmers of Canada annual general meeting in Vancouver, where delegates unanimously called for no concessions on supply management in TPP talks, federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said “I’d be shocked if they (the delegates) weren’t unanimous.”

However, he said, international trade talks remain “very much a balancing act,” and added that Canada as a country does not negotiate trade pacts in public.

Generally, Ritz and the provincial ministers said they “reaffirmed support for developing new markets around the world for Canadian products, including through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, while continuing to preserve the integrity of the supply management system.”

Bee health

Among other topics, Ritz said, ministers made commitments to “ongoing activities on many fronts” to preserve bee health in Canada.

The ministers jointly said they “discussed the fact that a healthy and sustainable agriculture sector depends both on bee health and on controlling pests,” and also “agreed on the need for policies that are based on sound principles of science, which are internationally recognized and respected.”

Ritz also noted he and the provincial ministers are looking forward to the upcoming accelerated review of the Canada Transportation Act, and jointly emphasized “the importance of efficient transportation systems in order for Canada to be a reliable supplier of agriculture and agri-food products to customers around the world.”

Ritz, later Friday, also called a press conference to be held Monday in Winnipeg, to announce “another step toward strengthening the grain handling and transportation system,” with input from the government-backed Crop Logistics Working Group.

The ministers on Friday also jointly acknowledged “adverse weather conditions” farmers now face in several areas, and pledged to continue to “work together to ensure existing programs deliver the needed support.”

Ritz, on Friday’s call, reiterated crop insurance programs are farmers’ first line of defense, and noted crop assessments are already underway in dry areas. He also noted rains in recent days in some of those areas, which are “not going to make it a bumper crop” but may leave many fields in better shape than otherwise feared.

Tampering

The ministers also discussed “growing concern about recent challenges with food and farm tampering,” with Ritz noting new food safety provisions authorizing the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to take enforcement action against anyone tampering with or threatening to tamper with food commodities.

Penalties for a first-time food tampering offense now sit at up to 18 months imprisonment and up to $500,000 in fines, Ritz said.

Food tampering has been a major issue for months across Atlantic Canada, where consumers in several cases have found nails and needles that appear to have been shoved into potatoes. RCMP are still investigating, Ritz said.

The federal and provincial governments also recently pledged funding for growers and packers to install foreign material detectors. Some potato operations have been shut down for six weeks to put the new equipment in place, McIsaac said Friday.

Ritz, who described such tamperers as “food terrorists,” said Friday the ministers “look forward to finding the scoundrels responsible and throwing the full force of the law at them.”

In late June, the P.E.I. Potato Board pledged a reward of $500,000 for any information provided between then and Aug. 15 leading to an arrest and conviction for potato tampering. — AGCanada.com Network

 

About the author

Editor, Daily News

Dave Bedard

Editor, Daily News, Glacier FarmMedia Network. A Saskatchewan transplant in Winnipeg.

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