Feds under increasing pressure to do something on canola

Canada’s canola conundrum with China dominated question period April 29 as Conservative members of Parliament demanded the Trudeau government do more to resolve the ongoing trade feud.

As well, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, a Saskatchewan MP, told reporters the canola issue should be taken to the World Trade Organization.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should also immediately appoint an ambassador to China to fill the current vacancy and provide additional financial support for farmers affected by the dispute, he said.

Scheer also called on Ottawa to pull Canadian funding from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

The Trudeau government has insisted repeatedly it is “standing shoulder to shoulder” with Canadian canola farmers. Speaking to reporters earlier this week, Trudeau insisted Canada would “absolutely be doing more” on the canola file in the coming days.

The prime minister did not say whether that included a challenge at the WTO, but sources say that option remains under consideration.

The Canola Council of Canada has said it believes a WTO challenge on the issue would be “well-founded.”

Canada and China have been embroiled in the feud over canola seed exports since early March, after Canada detained Chinese telecommunication executive Meng Wanzhou in December, following an extradition request from the United States.

Following her arrest, Chinese authorities detained two Canadians — Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig — on allegations of espionage. They remain in Chinese detention.

The government has tried to keep discussion on the file science-based, with cabinet ministers choosing to refrain from speaking with their political counterparts about the issue — other than Agriculture Minister Marie Claude Bibeau writing to request travel permission for a scientific delegation led by the president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

But patience with Ottawa on the canola front appears to be wearing thin.

As of press time, China had yet to approve the travel request for the delegation, which was made a month ago. Bibeau has said CFIA continues to talk with its Chinese customs counterparts via videoconference.

Last week, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe wrote a letter to Trudeau saying his government hadn’t heard a peep from Ottawa about a request to expand the federal cash advance program.

Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler has also said he is concerned about the way the crisis is being handled, telling CBC News “I’m not real pleased with where we’re at right now.”

Meanwhile farmers continue to face uncertainty as spring planting kicks off, with some farmers choosing to reduce their planned canola acreages.

In its March Principal Field Crop report, Statistics Canada found western Canadian farmers plan to seed nearly seven percent less canola this year compared to 2018.

If those acreages are realized it would be the smallest amount of canola planted since 2016.

Canada’s trade feud with China is also permeating other parts of Canadian policy.

In an interview during the Global News program West Block on April 28, Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz said the “biggest threat” to Canada’s economy right now is a global trade war.

Canada’s economy is slowing thanks to weakening oil prices, last year’s transportation issues and ongoing uncertainty within the global marketplace.

Last week the Bank of Canada chose not to raise interest rates given the sluggish Canadian economy, downgrading its 2019 forecast.

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