Farmers caught in the middle of trade dispute with China

Despite ongoing technical conversations, finding a resolution to China’s decision to end all Canadian canola seed imports has been deemed not possible, at least in the short-term.

Canola Council of Canada president Jim Everson said the industry had no choice but to try and find alternative markets.

Those statements confirmed the industry’s worst fears after Chinese officials pulled Richardson International’s export licence because of still unproven concerns about “hazardous organisms.”

Canadian farmers are now caught in the middle of escalating trade and diplomatic tension between Ottawa and China, which buys about 40 percent of the canola Canada exports.

The fear now is whether the situation escalates.

With spring seeding fast-approaching, the fear about what the dispute with China could mean for farmers’ bottom lines grows by the day.

The trade war with China is yet another fire Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s embattled Liberals must fight at a time when the party has spent much of 2019 on the defensive.

Internationally, Canada-China diplomatic relations are severely strained. China remains livid about the fact Canadian authorities detained Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer for Chinese telecom giant Huawei, in December following an extradition requested from the United States.

Chinese officials have since detained two Canadians, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessperson Michael Spavor, who the Chinese have accused of espionage.

The diplomatic dispute has also cost Canada its ambassador to China, who was fired by the prime minister after he suggested to reporters Wanzhou had a strong legal case.

Closer to home, the Trudeau government has spent more than a month combatting allegations the Prime Minister’s Office inappropriately pressured the former attorney general in relation to a file involving SNC Lavalin.

It’s a political crisis that has seen two cabinet ministers, a senior adviser to the prime minister and the clerk of the privy council (this country’s top bureaucrat) resign.

The possibility of a drawn-out dispute with China over canola exports is unlikely to do the Liberals any favours in Western Canada, where the economy is already a hot-button issue thanks to troubles in the energy sector.

In Alberta alone, it’s estimated 3,000 jobs are directly tied to canola, with 70 percent of the province’s exports to China canola-related.

Then, there are the political concerns.

Those who follow Canadian politics know that the East-West political divide in this country is as much reality as the urban-rural spread. With a federal election just around the corner, fears over western alienation are re-emerging.

From the start, the Trudeau government only had a handful of western voices in its caucus outside of British Columbia.

Both Liberal MPs from Calgary now sit as independents. Edmonton MP Amarjeet Sohi, who serves as Trudeau’s natural resources minister, has his hands full with the economic and market access struggles of Canada’s oil and gas sector.

Meanwhile, fellow Edmontonian Randy Boissonault sits on the House of Commons justice committee that until recently was handling the SNC Lavalin affair.

International Trade Minister Jim Carr is a key figure for the Liberals who has been tasked with finding a solution to the canola dispute. The importance of the file is not lost on him. The Richardson’s family has deep ties to Winnipeg, where Carr is from.

Carr has said there is no scientific basis for China’s concerns about pests in Canadian canola.

Carr is scheduled to testify in front of the House international trade committee on the canola-China dispute on April 2 alongside Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau.

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