It was just three weeks ago, but the issues in the spotlight at the Canadian Crops Convention almost seem to be from another age.
But the conference was also a reminder that however the coronavirus pandemic changes the landscape, Canada has a lot of people working behind the scenes to ensure trade can take place.
The federal government’s chief trade commissioner was talking about issues such as China’s canola ban — not COVID-19 — in her address here on March 4.
But she might have been.
“One of my key messages is that in these very challenging, very complex times, my team is your team,” said Ailish Campbell. “We are only going to solve things if we continue to relentlessly work together on the issues we all face in the complex global environment.”
She talked about the need for strong partnerships between government, industry, academia and researchers, and also about how Canada is known around the world as a reliable, sustainable supplier of high-quality, high-value products. And as the world’s fifth-largest exporter of agriculture products, the ag sector is a big part of that, she said.
“Agriculture is — and will remain — an economic driver for the Canadian economy,” Campbell said.
“In 2018, Canada traded $620 billion of merchandise and services with other countries. Agriculture accounted for almost 12 per cent of that total, and employs 2.3 million Canadians.”
She also noted the federal government has set a goal of reaching $75 billion in annual agri-food exports by 2025.
“Grains, oilseeds and pulses are an essential part of reaching that goal,” said Campbell. “The agriculture sector faces market challenges around the world in access and the federal government is working tirelessly to address them.”
Attendees at the conference (put on by the Canola Council of Canada and the Canada Grains Council) wanted to hear about issues such as China’s canola ban, India’s tariffs on pulses, and getting the European Union to open its doors wider to Canadian grains and oilseeds.
Former foreign affairs minister John Baird had little good to say about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, lambasting it for its deficit spending, carbon tax, and handling of the detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. He also decried the increasing amount of protectionism around the world, including in the U.S. under President Donald Trump.
“Trade is tougher and more complicated than ever,” said Baird. “The forces of anti-globalization are really coming into play and it’s not good for the stability of our economy.”
But he, too, pointed to successes Canada has achieved by having teams of trade officials working diligently away from the spotlight.
“I think Canada really dodged a bullet with NAFTA,” said Baird. “While we didn’t win anything new whatsoever, we did get a deal and now the uncertainty will end.
“The deal went well for Canada. We didn’t lose as much as I thought we would have.”
He also praised the prime minister’s appointment of Dominic Barton — the former managing director of global consulting firm McKinsey & Company — as the ambassador to China.
“A great Canadian. I think his appointment is a welcome sign that we’re taking the relationship (with China) seriously,” said Baird. “He was an excellent choice and I hope he has the skills to do the job.”
Campbell pointed to other successes, including the fact that Canada is the only G7 member with free trade agreements with all other G7 countries. The country also has a new trade agreement with Asia Pacific nations, the world’s fastest-growing markets, she said.
“With the Trans-Pacific Partnership, we’re seeing goods and services achieve duty-free access to markets like Japan and Vietnam,” she said.
Six days after the conference ended, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a pandemic. But attendees would have gone home with a message that global trade is central to Canada’s future.
“Canadians have embraced globalization,” said Baird. “We see increased engagement with the world as central to our future economic prosperity.”