Feds talk durum during EU trade mission

Durum sales to Italy, which had been Canada’s top customer, have slowed to a trickle in the wake of country-of-origin labelling legislation.  |  File photo

A Canadian trade delegation hopes it made some progress in the ongoing durum tiff with Italy.

Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay led a delegation that met with the Italian grain industry during a trade mission to the European Union.

“I raised Canada’s serious concerns about our market conditions in Italy, which are hurting our durum and wheat imports,” he said in a transcript of an Oct. 11 conference call with reporters.

“I defended our grain farmers and I urged the Italians to work with us to end the unfair barriers to trade for our durum wheat. It was a good meeting and they were very supportive.”

MacAulay was referring to Italy’s country-of-origin labelling legislation on pasta that came into effect in July 2017.

Durum sales to Canada’s top customer have slowed to a trickle in the wake of the COOL legislation.

It hasn’t helped that Coldiretti, Italy’s largest farm organization, has been spreading claims that Canadian durum contains unacceptably high levels of vomitoxin and glyphosate residue.

Cam Dahl, president of Cereals Canada, attended the discussions in Italy and was pleased that Canada’s delegation included the agriculture minister, deputy minister, minister’s chief of staff and Canada’s ambassador to Italy.

“That’s a pretty senior collection of people, which is good,” he said.

“That is a very positive demonstration that the Government of Canada really does understand the seriousness of the issue.”

Dahl said Coldiretti isn’t the only farm group in Italy and feels the Canadian delegation “built bridges” with some of the country’s other farm organizations that embrace science-based trade rules.

He said it will be interesting to see what happens in Italy over the next six months.

“There isn’t as much high quality durum in the world as there has been in the past,” said Dahl.

“I believe that they’re going to need Canadian durum if they’re going to want to continue producing high quality pasta.”

That may force Italy to open the door to greater dialogue on science-based trade.

Dahl said the COOL legislation was the direct result of Coldiretti’s lobbying efforts.

“They’re looking to keep out imported durum from Italy to increase the price of Italian durum. It’s a straight up protectionist play.”

He said the combination of COOL and the denigration of Canadian durum have increased the sourcing of Italian durum. However, Canadian imports have been partially replaced by durum from Australia and Kazakhstan, so the campaign hasn’t been a complete success.

Dahl hopes the foundation that was laid during the trade mission will result in new allies in Italy.

“Does that mean that we’re going to have free-flowing durum into Italy in a month’s time? No, I don’t expect that. It is unfortunately going to take some time,” he said.

MacAulay said the Canadian government is continuing to try to convince the Italian government that Canadian durum and wheat is safe and to urge it to respect science when it comes to assessing Canadian farming practices.

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