The top executive with Cereals Canada says it’s time for Ottawa to launch a formal trade challenge against Italy over its treatment of Canadian durum wheat.
Cam Dahl, executive director with Cereals Canada, said Ottawa has raised concerns in Europe and Italy regarding an Italian policy that requires country-of-origin labels to be attached to pasta and other food products made from Canadian durum.
However, it’s time to take the next step and launch a formal challenge against Italy’s policy, he said.
“We’ve had very strong support (from the federal government) … on these issues,” he said.
“But I think at this time we need to start taking the next step and giving notification that we will be challenging the country-of-origin labeling regulations, whether that through CETA (the Canada Europe Trade Agreement) or the WTO (World Trade Organization).”
Dahl said the Italian labelling policy is already having a noticeable impact on Canadian durum exports.
Under the policy, Canadian durum destined for Italy would need to be segregated and labelled, adding significant costs to processors and end users.
Italy normally imports 20 to 25 percent of the Canadian durum crop.
Although the COOL regulations are not expected to take effect until mid-February, export activity has already been significantly affected.
“We’re seeing today that we’re not getting new contracts signed for Italy,” Dahl said.
“The COOL regulations are having the impact that we expected; they are limiting Canadian exports.”
Dahl said the COOL regulations have been accompanied by a public relations campaign aimed at devaluing Canadian durum.
Specific attacks have been aimed at the Canadian industry relating to the presence of deoxynivalenol (DON) levels, ochratoxin A and glyphosate use. The use of glyphosate as a crop production tool has recently come under intense consumer scrutiny in many parts of Europe.
Dahl said it remains to be seen how long Italian pasta producers will be able to meet local market demand without using Canadian durum.
For the time being, however, the Italian campaign is having significant impact on Canada’s export programs.
“When you’re looking at a significant reduction or removal of 20 to 25 percent of your market, that’s going to have an impact,” Dahl said.
“We’re going to be pushing the Canadian government to challenge this activity because it is going to have a significant impact on our ability to export.”
Dahl said it’s difficult to predict what impact, if any, the Italian regulations will have on seeding intentions in Western Canada’s durum growing regions.
“That’s going to be a hard question to answer because … how many of these market access issues are Canadian producers facing?” he said.
“The same guys that are growing durum are also looking at growing lentils and (dealing with) the protectionist activities of India.”
“We’re facing a lot of these issues right now and they’re all going to have an impact,” Dahl said.
Market access issues are “probably the biggest issue facing our industry going forward,” he said.