UPDATED – May 10, 2017 – 1540 CST – A new report prepared by Canadian senators says the federal government needs to do more to support farm exports and ensure that producers and processors have better access to key international markets.
Among other things, the report calls on Ottawa to invest in grain transportation infrastructure, establish a renewal plan for the federal hopper car fleet, increase research capacity at Agriculture Canada and take steps to address costly non-tariff trade barriers.
All told, the document contains 18 policy recommendations and touches on a wide range of topics, including trade agreements, trade dispute resolution mechanisms, harmonized registrations of pesticides and biotech traits, the establishment of consistent maximum residue limits (MRLs), domestic research capacity, food safety, product branding, transportation infrastructure and farm labour.
The report, entitled Market Access: Giving Canadian Farmers and Processors the World, was released by the Senate’s agriculture and forestry committee.
“Our farmers are some of the best in the world. They’re only limited by the climate and their ability to get their products to market,” said Terry Mercer, deputy chair of the committee.
“That’s sort of what we wanted to tackle: what needs to happen to … (make sure) our farmers … are getting their products to market and to the customers who want them.”
Mercer acknowledged that many of the recommendations contained in the report deal with issues that have been at the top of the ag industry’s wish list for many years.
However, with global demand for food growing every year, it is imperative that Ottawa take action now.
“We’ve heard these same messages for years at the committee,” Mercer said.
“It’s time to stop talking and its time to start doing.”
According to the report, other steps that Ottawa should take include:
• establishing a national committee to monitor non-tariff barriers that affect Canadian trade
• pushing for more efficient dispute resolution mechanisms at the World Trade Organization
• developing a comprehensive national marketing strategy program that reinforces the Canada Brand in foreign markets
• reviewing immigration policy and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to facilitate the industry’s needs for farm labour
• improving transportation services that are available to agricultural shippers by ensuring greater reciprocity between shippers and railway companies
The report also calls for Ottawa to “adequately invest in grain transportation infrastructure” and “establish a renewal plan for federal hopper cars.”
That may or may not mean Ottawa should spend money on tangible assets, Mercer said, but at least the government should have a plan in place and facilitate changes that benefit agricultural exporters.
“The government isn’t in the business of owning hopper cars these days,” Mercer said when asked about hopper car renewal.
“Do we have the answer (regarding hopper car renewal)? No. But we need to talk about it.”
Mercer’s comments about research capacity at Agriculture Canada were more direct.
“Over the last number of years, our research capacity has diminished,” he said.
“I’m hoping the new government will be putting more money back (into agricultural research).”
Brian Innes, vice-president of government relations with the Canola Council of Canada, said the canola industry was generally pleased with the report.
“It’s very positive that the Senate is doing a report on what we need to do to grow the agriculture sector,” Innes said.
“Market access is huge for the canola industry, so this attention is helpful to articulate what we need to do to grow even more.”
Innes said the report drew attention to both tariff and non-tariff barriers that negatively impact the Canadian canola industry.
For example, the absence of a formalized trade agreement with Japan means tariffs restrict the export of Canadian canola oil to that country, Innes said.
The lack of harmonized regulatory approvals for pesticides and biotech products is an important non-tariff trade irritant.
The canola industry has been pushing for a harmonized approval process that would see Canada and its trading partners approve crop input products simultaneously, but progress has been slow.
A harmonized approval process would help to address prickly questions pertaining to maximum residue limits in canola, Innes said.
It would also give Canadian producers access to the products they need without posing a risk to major export markets.
He pointed to quinclorac in canola and Manipulator in wheat as examples of asynchronously approved products that can disrupt trade.
Innes said international bodies such as the Codex Alimentarius Commission were set up to establish mutually acceptable chemical residue limits in agricultural commodities such as canola.
However, Codex is not a perfect system and there is room for improvements, he added.
“There is a lot of opportunity to make things (like Codex) work better,” Innes said.
“So this report is helpful because it draws attention to how we can make that system work better.”
Mercer said the Senate agriculture committee will be seeking feedback on its report from government departments and federal agencies, including the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
“One of the things that we’re gong to do as a committee is hold government accountable for this report,” Mercer said.
“We want them to come back to us and tell us what they’ve done.”