New report urges governments to safeguard country’s ag exports

Canadian farmers and agricultural exporters are in a great position for the rest of the pandemic and the post-pandemic world.

That makes it incumbent upon government authorities to not do anything to undermine Canadian agricultural competitiveness, says an agricultural think-tank report.

Governments and industry should work fast to fix flaws revealed by COVID-19 so that Canada’s position can be improved, the report stated.

“Governments need to resist the temptation to deal with what were short-term difficulties in the domestic market by lumbering agri-food supply chains with efficiency-reducing regulations,” says a report by analysts May Yeung and William Kerr of the University of Calgary’s Simpson Centre for Agricultural and Food Innovation and Public Education.

“Potential government responses or interventions that might negatively affect Canada’s already resilient and well-functional agri-food supply chains should be resisted as cascading reactions can distort supply chains, creating artificial shortages, locally and globally. Over time, these artificial shortages become ingrained, affecting supplies long after the pandemic abates.”

Yeung and Kerr say Canada’s food supply, as well as food production and distribution systems, have done well during the pandemic, suffering only temporary stumbles.

That positions Canada to win markets from other exporters and foreign producers who have faced bigger challenges.

“If domestic supply chains within foreign markets falter, then market opportunities for Canadian firms will likely arise. Research into the responses in important markets can assist firms in their monitoring.”

Around the world, food supply chains have been disrupted. Some countries have instituted export bans for some products, while others have scrambled to buy up local supplies for fear of shortages.

Canada is one of the few countries that is a net exporter of agricultural products, leaving it in the rare position of having little fear of famine or significant shortfalls in basic foods and able to supply anxious overseas markets.

However, flaws have been revealed in the pandemic’s glare, Yeung and Kerr say. Much agricultural production relies upon a patchy system of temporary foreign workers who move between countries, from home to work in Canada.

During the pandemic, that supply of workers has been blocked, interrupted and undermined, something governments and industries should work to fix for now and the future.

If Canada can improve its access to foreign workers, the industries that rely upon them will be well-placed to expand into markets having trouble accessing product from other exporters.

“Canada could move to make up that export shortfall.”

Canada should also develop programs to support export-oriented farmers and industry when they are hit with a shock like COVID-19.

“Contingency policy initiatives such as short-term bridge financing to quickly and effectively support producers during these types of situations need to be prepared.”

Yeung and Kerr are optimistic Canada’s agricultural exporting industries can come through and out of the pandemic in a better position than they went in.

“As long as Canadian supply chains are unencumbered and can retain their existing international competitiveness, they will be able to act upon the opportunities that will arise,” says the report.

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