When hitting India, save some vitriol for Italy

Indian tariffs on pulse crops have received a great deal of attention. Less well known, but arguably more offside, are the measures keeping Canadian durum out of Italy.

Indian tariffs are blamed for decimating pulse prices in Canada, particularly for red lentils. Truth is, pulse exports had practically stalled before the tariffs were applied last fall because of the much larger than normal crop produced by Indian farmers.

We may not like it, but India is not breaching any trade agreements with its high pulse crop tariffs.

Domestically, India has a difficult balancing act. It has millions of small, struggling farmers complaining about low grain prices and threatening to grow something other than pulse crops. On the other hand, the population is prone to rioting over any increase in staple food prices.

Sooner or later, Indian pulse production will drop because of a reduction in planted acres and/or weather concern. Tariffs will disappear and trade will resume.

Contrast this to what’s happening in Italy. That country typically imports about two million tonnes of durum a year to augment its domestic production. About one million tonnes of high protein, high quality durum usually comes from Canada.

Canada doesn’t have a trade agreement with India, but the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement with the European Union came into force last fall. Despite CETA, Italy has initiated country-of-origin labelling. Segregation of durum and labelling of pasta products has added significant cost to imported durum.

For months, Cereals Canada has been calling for a formal trade challenge. Why do we develop trade agreements unless we’re willing to enforce them? Some Italian officials have readily admitted that their labelling laws are meant to disadvantage imports.

Beyond labelling, Canadian durum has been vilified by Italian farmers over glyphosate residue.

Barilla, a worldwide leader in pasta manufacturing, has stopped buying Canadian durum for its Italian pasta plants. Emilio Ferrari of Barilla explained to the recent Canadian Global Crops Symposium in Toronto that the Italian government banned the use of pre-harvest glyphosate in wheat in 2016. According to Ferrari, this wasn’t a big deal because it wasn’t used anyway.

However, Italian farmers began pointing to imported wheat and durum as poison because it had a measurable glyphosate residue. Barilla now has contracts for durum imports that stipulate no pre-harvest glyphosate. However, Canada has been singled out, and no Canadian durum is being imported.

No exact numbers are available, but most durum acres in southern Saskatchewan and Alberta don’t receive pre-harvest glyphosate. However, if you measure glyphosate residue down to parts per billion, you can find a residue in almost every crop, probably even organically produced crops.

As a result, Canadian durum that’s 10 or 20 times lower than Europe’s maximum residue limit for glyphosate still isn’t good enough for Italian consumers.

There are more reasons to be upset with Italy than there are with India when it comes to trade issues.

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