Looking for solutions to the China problem

There are no easy answers, no simple solutions on the issue of China and canola. Some measures and approaches are better than others, but none guarantees a satisfactory conclusion.

Going back to the beginning of this mess, some pundits say Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou should have been discretely forewarned to stay clear of Canada. Alternatively, we should have found some way to bungle her arrest and let her slip away.

With the benefit of hindsight, maybe some official would have put their career on the line and made that happen. But who was to know the ferocity of the Chinese response? Plus, what would the American response have been? And how much of a scandal would it have created in Canada?

Now that Meng Wanzhou is under house arrest awaiting possible extradition to the United States, what can be done to alleviate the full-blown diplomatic and trade crisis with China?

Getting a skilled Canadian ambassador to China to replace the loose-lipped John McCallum is an obvious starting point. It shouldn’t have taken this long.

What about sending a high level delegation of federal and provincial officials to China? That’s likely to happen, but it takes time to lay the groundwork and set up the proper meetings and there’s no guarantee of progress.

You need to work every angle and you need to continue talking, but the Chinese haven’t stopped canola exports on a whim. This is hurting their economy too. They have crushing plants dedicated specifically to canola.

At some point, the discussion has to evolve from the thinly veiled sham of “harmful organisms” in our canola. China isn’t even naming the supposed pest problem. Let’s call it what it is and start talking about the Huawei executive, the real source of the problem.

Unfortunately, on that point we have little to offer the Chinese. The extradition process could take years to play out. The only salvation would be for the U.S. to drop its extradition request. Could U.S. President Donald Trump make that happen or does that rest entirely within the U.S. judicial system?

In the absence of that solution, some suggest we need to take a hard line with China. We have a huge trade deficit with them so we could slap tariffs on a bunch of their products in retaliation for their unfair treatment of our canola. This approach would probably backfire.

An economy the size of the U.S. can take a hard line with China and perhaps get its attention. Canada cannot.

What about support for Canadian farmers hurt by the falling price of our number one crop? The idea of an expanded interest-free cash advance program is a logical response and would help producers who may be short of cash for seeding expenses. Long-term, unfortunately, it could be a debt trap if the market remains closed and canola prices continue to languish. You can’t borrow your way to profitability.

Fixing and enhancing AgriStability has been suggested, but that’s like repairing the barn door after the horses have escaped. Why does it take a crisis to focus minds on proper safety net support? Given the opportunity to rejoin AgriStability, how many producers would actually make that move, even with the dark cloud hanging over canola sales?

This whole mess certainly isn’t helping the popularity of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government with western farmers, but a different political stripe would be facing the same problems.

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