Premiers form united trade front

SASKATOON — Canada’s premiers want Ottawa to act on market access issues for agricultural products and say affected sectors should get support.

Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe struck an even tone as the host of the 13 leaders’ annual meeting, saying the restrictions imposed most notably by China but also by several other countries are “concerning.”

Standing with Quebec premier Francois Legault, who will host next year’s meeting, he said the situation is a problem for all provinces, from prairie canola growers to Quebec pork producers.

Asked if Ottawa is doing enough with regard to China, Moe said everyone wants the matter resolved.

“We’re not at that point yet and we’ll continue to work with our federal government to ensure that we can get there at some point in time sooner rather than later,” he said.

In a later interview, he said the premiers didn’t arrive at a specific number or type of assistance they think Ottawa should provide.

“Each industry is somewhat different with respect to what support would look like,” he said. “We didn’t discuss specific asks … but we did use the example of the canola ask (for increased cash advances) and how the federal government responded to canola, as well as steel and aluminum tariffs.”

Moe made the point that there is only one trade policy in Canada and it comes from the federal government.

Provinces reiterated they would do what they can to support that policy.

The premiers plan to lead a trade mission to the European Union to work on expanding key markets such as Germany, France and Belgium. They want to meet with countries that haven’t yet ratified the Canada-EU trade agreement to push for that.

They also intend to attend the National Governors Association winter meeting in the United States.

The U.S. is the main trading partner for 11 of the 13 jurisdictions in Canada.

Moe said maintaining that relationship is critical, especially given what is happening with canola, pork and beef in China, durum in Italy, pulses in India and other trade issues in other countries.

“We’re having more than we’re comfortable with,” he said regarding market access issues.

In a letter sent to the leaders of the four main federal parties in advance of this fall’s election, the premiers asked each to reply how they would support provinces, businesses, workers and communities when countries such as China and the U.S. impose unfair trade restrictions on Canadian exports.

Moe said the responses would be made public.

Asked if Saskatchewan is in a financial position to help farmers should the issues not be resolved, he said the government hadn’t yet had that discussion.

“I would say this: agriculture is absolutely the spinal cord of the economy here in the province of Saskatchewan. Most years, if not virtually all years, it accounts for over half of our exports. It is an industry that we are not going to back away from. It’s an industry that we will continue to be involved in at the very front lines with our consultation, ensuring that we can do what we can to support the industry that we currently have but also to support the growth of that industry.”

Meanwhile, the federal government last week announced an investment of more than $13 million to expand and diversify grains and oilseeds exports.

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said the money would help exporters take full advantage of trade agreements with the EU and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Industries will use the money to lead promotional activities for their particular sectors. For example, the Prairie Oat Growers Association said it would use the funding to expand exports to Mexico and China. Right now, more than 85 percent of Canadian oats go to the U.S.

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