There’s a lot at stake in the ongoing discussions with China to achieve stable canola trade. Important details are being missed in the headlines that growers and the agriculture industry deserve to understand.
Many will remember the fall of 2009 when the Chinese government curtailed Canada’s growing canola trade because of concerns about blackleg. Through significant government and industry co-operation, both countries signed a memorandum of understanding to complete research to help us better understand the disease. With that came a commitment from China to make future regulatory decisions based on science, a value that aligns with the Canola Council of Canada and the government of Canada.
A government policy that is not based on science and puts an industry at a competitive disadvantage is a trade barrier, regardless of whether meeting the policy is achievable.
China’s proposal to limit dockage was exactly this. If it could have been done, it would have imposed real costs on the canola value chain for additional cleaning and slowed down the movement of all grains and oilseeds. It would have put canola at a competitive disadvantage to other oilseeds. It was also clear that this measure would not have provided long-term stable access for canola and there was no evidence that it would affect the risk of blackleg for China. This is not something Canadian farmers and industry should have accepted.
There’s also a lot of confusion about dockage being added to canola, but it’s no secret that the size of canola seeds makes it difficult to clean. In the initial stages of the cleaning process, many of the smaller seeds are culled out and need to be added back to ensure that as little canola as possible is lost. Inevitably some dockage gets returned. Farmers don’t get paid for dockage when they deliver to an elevator and as such, they do their utmost to deliver a clean crop. A grain company negotiates sales where dockage is a quality parameter considered as part of the price negotiation. Each part of the industry tries to maximize profit within a complex system of rules and operations. This has resulted in a sustainable, profitable high-quality crop and the growth of a very successful industry.
The ongoing discussion of Canadian canola and exports to China is about more than dockage. It’s about developing stable, long-term access to a valuable market.
While this is a highly technical issue, having the prime minister and federal minister of trade involved has been important because there are some very critical principles being tested and for that, the canola industry appreciates their intervention. It has increased efforts in both countries to find resolution in short order and shows how we might deal with one another going forward. That’s really important for canola, but also for Canada’s broader trade agenda. The Canadian industry believes there are more effective ways of mitigating an already low risk of blackleg transmission and has invested millions in research that addresses China’s concerns. With the support of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland we trust that a resolution will soon be found.
Patti Miller is the President of the Canola Council of Canada.