Trade, trade, trade – and complications

I was rather delighted while covering the Canada Grains Council’s annual meeting on Wednesday morning, whilst standing in line to get a coffee during a break, to find Senator JoAnne Buth right in front of me.

Buth, former president of the Canola Council of Canada, has been to hundreds of meetings like this, but now that she’s a senator and living in a high political realm, does she still find it worth coming to these things? Apparently yes, which is what cheered me, because it’s nice to see that becoming a senator hasn’t killed her desire to work with the industry and keep atop of the many technical and trade issues that occupy the time of leaders of industries like the Canadian grain trade. Apparently that’s why she was appointed: because she actually understands this stuff, which isn’t true of normal people.

Buth’s got a keen sense of the technical trade issues that often bedevil international trade, and those were a big concern at the CGC meeting. Agricultural trade is fraught with complications, snags, snarls, barriers, special situations. Just think of the flax-to-Europe situation, the canola-to-China situation, the pigs-to-the-US situation, etc. etc. etc. Much of our trade involves weird little complications that exporters, importers, traders, bureaucrats, politicians and negotiators have to deal with constantly.

It was startling for me to hear from Canada’s chief agricultural trade negotiator, who spoke at the conf, that the EU is actually one of the most open markets that we export to.

Huh? Europe?

As Frederic Seppey explained it in his speech and in an interview afterwards, the EU has lots of complications, but most other world markets have even more, and some seem to apply their barriers and tariffs more capriciously, like India. So we’ve got real hopes for a free trade deal with the EU that would substantially improve trade between Canada and the EU for grains, pork and beef. There are also hopes for a good result from the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations and a host of bilateral negotiations with other countries. But each country, each region, each market has its own sensitivities and concerns. Getting pork and beef into Europe is a big concern right now, and each of those commodities has its own sensitivities in particular parts of Europe, Seppey said. Stickhandling those is a big part of what Canada is doing now, he said.

Across our commodities and makrets, those kind of sensitivities and concerns have to be worked through diligently and patiently, by politicians like Buth, by negotiators like Seppey, by the industry officials like those at the CGC meeting, and by everyone dealing with the day-to-day reality of international trade. Doesn’t seem like a lot of fun to me, but who knows, maybe for the kind of people who occupy these roles this is exactly what they want to be dealing with. Anyway, I’m happy they’re doing it rather than me.





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