Ottawa goes quiet, but national stage remains active

A lull has settled over the nation’s capital, where folks can now enjoy the summer because the mercury has dropped to more reasonable, less sweltering levels.

The glad-handing and handshake tours are underway in other parts of the country. Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer have dropped in on the Calgary Stampede where they flipped pancakes and engaged in chit chat.

Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay was expected to stop in at the Stampede on July 11.

MacAulay is in the midst of criss-crossing the country as part of his Growing Canadian Agriculture tour. The minister is making his way to Vancouver for the annual gathering of this country’s agriculture ministers set for July 18-20.

Much has changed since Canada’s agriculture ministers met last year to finalize the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) — a five-year federal-provincial partnership.

At the time of that meeting, the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement was a blip on the trade radar and while U.S. President Donald Trump had been elected, his protectionist shift hadn’t really started.

Front and centre was a lengthy discussion about Canada’s suite of business risk management programs. Ministers are expected to get an update from the business risk management task force struck last year.

However, while BRM will be on the agenda, another issue could overshadow the gathering. This year’s meeting of agriculture ministers comes in the midst of an escalating trade war that has left farmers nervous, thanks to retaliatory tariffs many countries, including Canada, applied to U.S. products.

The tariffs were imposed in response to the U.S. decision to impose import tariffs on steel and aluminum products because of so-called national security concerns, an argument Canada rejects.

On Canada Day, the Trudeau government imposed some $16.6 billion in retaliatory tariffs on a wide-range of American products. While primary agricultural goods were not included on Canada’s tariff list because of fears domestic agriculture could be hit, the list includes a number of prepared food items like yogurt, ketchup, mayonnaise, soup, pizzas and quiches.

In the U.S., the Trump administration has said it is considering imposing additional tariffs on all vehicles that cross the U.S. border, a threat Canada’s automotive industry has warned could be “catastrophic.”

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has said Canada is prepared for any eventuality on the trade front, including auto tariffs. Whether the Trudeau government’s response includes additional tariffs on U.S. goods remains to be seen.

Then there are increased competitiveness concerns. Saskatchewan continues to be opposed to the Trudeau government’s proposed carbon tax plan, a policy that is now also being rejected by the newly elected Ontario government under Premier Doug Ford.

Meanwhile, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has spent the past few months trying to reassure American farm country that the Trump administration has a plan to ensure it can weather a trade war between China and the United States.

Details of that plan have yet to be released. However, questions are already emerging about whether additional supports for U.S. industry will cause additional competitiveness issues for Canada.

U.S.- Canada trade isn’t the only issue on the file. Canada continues to be embroiled in an ongoing spat with India over pulses. The New Delhi government recently extended its fumigation policy for another six months, which will see Canadian exporters continue to pay an additional pest treatment fee.

There are also ongoing concerns about wheat trade with Italy, with MacAulay telling senators last spring that Canada is looking at whether to take the file to the World Trade Organization.

New Italian Agriculture Minister Gian Marco Centinaio has also said his country is not willing to ratify the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement with Canada.

Meanwhile, the Trudeau government faces increased pressure from farm groups that want the pending Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership ratified ASAP.

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