Agricultural issues will remain a hot file for Ottawa

Folks wishing for a reprieve on the agriculture file following several hectic months shouldn’t get their hopes up.

It’s busy, and unlikely to quiet down any time soon.

For starters, it’s been snowing on the Prairies, a situation that’s made a challenging harvest even tougher.

Alberta is in particularly bad shape. As of Oct. 12, only 40 percent of the province’s crops were in the bin.

The Alberta Wheat Commission has estimated that as of Oct. 10, 7.8 million acres remain unharvested in the province, worth more than $3 billion.

Farmers know a snowy harvest is a stressful harvest. They know the struggles that come with having to deal with excessive moisture, crops that have been flattened by snow and declines in crop quality.

Grain farmers have already warned Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay that they may need government help if they can’t get this year’s crop in the bin, including possible AgriRecovery assistance.

Meanwhile, farm groups and crop insurance adjusters are trying to ensure producers have access to the financial aid, and in some cases, the mental health support they need.

The snow in the Prairies is only one issue on the federal government’s radar.

MacAulay was in Europe the week after Thanksgiving to promote Canadian agriculture’s interests under the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union. His trip included stops in Spain, Belgium and Italy.

Canada and Italy have been embroiled in longstanding trade dispute over durum imports and Italy’s country-of-origin policy on pasta and other goods.

Canadian grain farmers have asked the minister to take the issue to the World Trade Organization. So far, MacAulay has preferred to take a diplomatic approach rather than launch a formal complaint at the WTO.

The minister told reporters during a media callback he raised the matter again while in Rome.

Durum wheat isn’t the only trade file being watched by Canadian farmers.

The federal government is still trying to get the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement through Parliament in time to ensure Canada becomes one of the deal’s six original signatories.

The ratification legislation was expected to be sent to the Senate the week of Oct. 15.

Meanwhile, Canada is finalizing its version of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which will replace the current North American Free Trade Agreement, once ratified.

While the deal has been welcomed by export agriculture, the concessions made by Canada on dairy, in particular, have infuriated some farmers.

MacAulay was greeted by more than 100 angry dairy farmers a few weeks ago while making a rural infrastructure announcement in Prince Edward Island. More protests are expected.

Meanwhile, there’s ongoing concern USMCA will make it harder for Canada to negotiate a free trade agreement with China.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has insisted the Canadian government will continue to work toward diversifying its trade agenda. China has warned those discussions will be harder thanks to the USMCA.

Ottawa and Beijing have been engaged in exploratory talks for years. No formal talks have been agreed to at this time. Canadian agriculture has flagged China as one of the top markets where they would like to see added access.

China’s agriculture minister Han Changfu is expected to be in Ottawa Oct. 17 for a series of meetings with his Canadian counterpart.

MacAulay isn’t the only one who will be hosting an international delegation in the coming weeks.

The Canadian government is set to hold a meeting with some of its fellow WTO members on Oct. 24-25 in Ottawa to discuss possible ways to keep the international trade organization alive.

The United States has not been invited to the meeting.

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