Ag minister optimistic about export prospects

Marie-Claude Bibeau says an increasing middle class in Africa and Asia will increase demand for the food Canada grows

Minister of Agriculture Marie Claude Bibeau says Canadian agriculture will be the “powerhouse of the economy” as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, pointing to specific opportunities for the industry to grow.

During a virtual “fireside chat” at the International Economic Forum of the America’s Toronto event on Oct. 27, Bibeau expressed optimism over export opportunities arising from growing middle classes in Africa and Asia.

“Agriculture has to be in the centre of the relaunch of our economy, a sustainable economy, obviously” she said.

Some have expressed doubt and say reaching such a goal will be difficult in an international trade environment weighed down by protectionist policies and an ineffective World Trade Organization, but Bibeau is optimistic.

“My vision for Canadian agriculture is for us to have a really resilient and innovative and sustainable food system to allow all Canadians access to safe and nutritious food,” she said.

A 2017 study from the Advisory Council on Economic Growth, known as the Barton report after the council’s former chair and current ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, identified agri-food as key to Canada’s economic growth, and built consensus between stakeholders on how to move forward.

“We have to keep working together with the provinces, with the industry, we all have responsibilities in collaborating,” Bibeau said, noting she is proud of the collaboration now in identifying priorities.

One of the paths toward growth identified by Barton was the creation of industry superclusters. In 2017, five superclusters were given a total of $918 million to spend over five years on collaborative research.

One of the superclusters created was Protein Industries Canada.

According to the federal government, the prairie-based supercluster was set up to “use plant genomics and novel processing technology to increase the value of key Canadian crops, such as canola, wheat and pulses that are coveted in high-growth foreign markets, such as China and India, as well as to satisfy growing markets in North America and Europe for plant-based meat alternatives and new food products.”

Bibeau said it offers “huge potential” for Canadian industry.

The federal government says the Protein Industries Supercluster would add more than $4.5 billion to the gross domestic product over 10 years and create more than 4,500 jobs over that same time span.

Ottawa continues to hint more investment could be coming for processing facilities as well. In recent months Bibeau has expressed a desire to explore the issue.

“It’s a huge opportunity, if we could have more investment in Canada in processing plants to add value to Canadian crops and products in general,” she said, noting it would help ease the effort to increase exports.

She said she is also interested in developing more regional supply food chains.

“We’ve seen how strong our food supply chain can be, but also we’ve identified weaknesses and I think there is an opportunity to strengthen our regional supply chain and invest in processing plants strategically located in different regions,” she said, noting particular attention is being paid to the impact Ottawa’s actions will have on climate change.

“All of these investments, and more, have to be connected to our commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is something that we are strongly committed to doing, the agriculture sector is a major partner in this journey.”

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