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Canadian farmers will be able to survive new cold war

If you are young and feel bad about missing out on the old cold war, don’t worry.

Another one has just begun and you’ll get to spend years enjoying the new cold war.

For farmers, the worsening relations between the western world and China might not be a big deal. One thing we learned from the original cold war with the Soviet Union and its vassal nations is that agricultural trade can continue despite frosty relations between rival geopolitical blocs.

The Soviet Union might have had thousands of nuclear missiles pointed at the United States and was arming the North Vietnamese military and Viet Cong guerrillas who were busily killing American soldiers in the early 1970s, but it eagerly bought every bushel of U.S. grain it could in 1972, in the infamous Great Grain Robbery.

It also bought all the grain it could from other capitalist dogs, like us.

Soviet grain production had collapsed due to bad weather and communist mismanagement, and while its generals were figuring out ways to wipe out the West, its political leaders were scrambling to feed its people. The latter was a bigger priority.

So, if the horrible relations between Canada and China are preoccupying farmers, let me suggest we all relax a little. It’s too bad that China is mad at Canada and strangling our canola exports, but we’re hardly alone.

As my story on page 44 of this issue discusses, China is involved in diplomatic disputes with numerous other agricultural exporters, including Australia, the United States and various European nations.

As Charles Burton of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute told me, hitting exporters’ trade appears to be Beijing’s go-to action now when it gets into political scraps with other countries.

“There does seem to be an increasing trend of the Chinese communist regime to use non-tariff trade barriers to attempt to leverage fulfilment of their political aims.”

China can bluster, badger and bellow at Canada and other agricultural exporters, but it needs our food. It doesn’t produce enough to feed its people. That’s likely to get worse, as it pollutes its water and soil resources.

If there’s one thing a non-democratic regime understands, it is that a hungry people is much more likely to rise up in revolution than one well-fed. Just look at the Arab Spring and its origin in the food shortages and high prices of 2012, as well as the spark that lit the Russian Revolution.

China can squeeze Canadian canola sales. Right now, it’s threatening Australian beef and wine exports. For a decade it refused to buy Norwegian salmon.

It’s still buying large quantities of United States crops and meat, but that’s subject to the U.S.-China trade war that appears to be only temporarily suspended. By the time you read this, that war might be on again and China might have stopped buying U.S. crops and meat.

In the long-run, which it’s planning for with its Belt-and-Road Initiative, it could always turn first to the nations of Asia, Africa and the former Soviet Union for its food needs, as well as agricultural competitors such as Argentina and Brazil.

Good luck with that. As analysts like Bruce Burnett of Glacier MarketsFarm and Jacob Shapiro of Perch Perspectives have pointed out, there are only a handful of countries on the planet that actually export more food than they import.

That means there are times when people have to come begging at the exporters’ doors. China’s talking a good and loud game right now but wait to see what happens next time it has a major food production problem, or other major exporters fail to produce enough.

As we learned from the Soviet Union, somebody can really seem to hate you, but if they’re hungry and scared, they’ll buy whatever food you’re selling.

And with China likely to face growing food production problems and increasingly fractious relations with much of the world, including the food suppliers it relies upon, the country is likely to remain a customer of Canada’s, even if not a happy one.

Beggars can’t be choosers.

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