Trade- friendly environment is in tatters

It wasn’t so long ago that the previous Canadian government was telling us it wouldn’t be needing as many staff around the world to market our agricultural products as freer international trade was maturing.

Grain companies said it, too. At the same time producers felt they didn’t need to rely on one another — think pools and co-ops — or the government for support of their operations.

The world was a better, more trade-friendly place then. Protectionism was on the wane, new trade deals were being signed all the time and commodity prices appeared to have caught up with costs of production.

Farmers were told that the Canadian reputation for quality, consistency of products; our origin stories of clean air and water; high legislative standards and enforcement; and being honest brokers were all we really needed to succeed globally.

The world has changed a lot in the past decade, even since 2015 when the United States and Canada joined with 193 other countries to sign the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Future global trade in smaller countries would require a buy-in of that deal. It was perfect for Canada’s clean-brand.

Today, in some quarters, our reputation is in tatters. Italy, once a major buyer for our durum and an importer of pulse crops from Western Canada, went so far as to say Canadian crop exports were poisoned by our farming practices.

Its right-wing shift in politics used Canada as a weapon in a protectionism quarrel within the European Union and engaged its own farmers and consumers in a battle against free and fair trade with Canada and others. Not caring about the damage inflicted, it took part in widespread public campaigns about the safety of our exports.

While Canada might have some success getting the EU to enforce our European trade deal with Italy, the damage is already done.

Indian media, with some help from anti-trade forces, jumped on the Italian message and reported that Canadian pulses were carrying what was called toxic levels of glyphosate. While that country’s government health agencies quickly ensured it wasn’t true, the memory for some consumers will likely be hard to shake.

It might be time to take stock of what our own politicians are telling us and see how those messages fit into the support structure of our Canada brand. And get back to marketing it.

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