Agriculture ministers from North America are meeting in Colorado this week against the backdrop of uncertain NAFTA negotiations in Washington.
Saskatchewan minister Lyle Stewart said discussions in Denver will most certainly focus on trade.
“That’s always the topic of conversation at the Tri-National Accord and we think it’s particularly important that we’re there this year in the midst of NAFTA negotiations,” he said last week.
The US and Mexico represent Saskatchewan’s first and fifth-largest export destinations.
Exports to the US account for $3.5 billion annually, while sales to Mexico total $623 million including $39 million worth of canola oil.
Stewart said wheat trade is of particular concern and will likely be raised at both NAFTA and Tri-National talks.
The US is Canada’s major destination for wheat. When wheat comes north, it doesn’t meet certain criteria in the Canadian grading system and is automatically graded at the lowest possible grade or feed.
“In a lot of cases that’s not fair,” Stewart said. “The US has been pretty unhappy about this for a while. We’ve asked the federal government, and through them the grain commission, to try to find a path so the US imports into Canada can be treated more fairly because our large wheat exports to the US may hang in the balance.”
He added there will be other issues discussed at the Tri-National that relate to NAFTA, including trade dispute resolution.
“A dispute settlement mechanism for us in Saskatchewan is I think a hill to die on in the NAFTA talks because of the fact that after years of struggle we eventually got COOL settled but only because there was a dispute settlement mechanism,” he said, referring to the mandatory country-of-origin labeling on beef and pork implemented in the US.
“I think we’ll be very strong on that one. I don’t think we can tolerate a weaker one.”
Ontario minister Jeff Leal is leading the Canadian delegation this year. The meetings were first held in 1992 in Puerto Vallarta.