Ministers to spend summer basking in ag policy, trade, food plan

Politicians may have headed home for the summer, but don’t expect Canada’s key agricultural files to slow down any time soon.

Canada’s agriculture ministers will gather in St. John’s in a few weeks for their annual July federal-provincial-territorial meeting, where they will try to finalize the next five-year funding agreement for the sector. The current Growing Forward 2 agreement expires next year.

Discussions on the next agriculture policy framework have been ongoing for more than a year. The ministers were in Ottawa in May to work on some of the more contentious files, notably business risk management, where they instructed officials to look into a possible review of the programs.

Sources say they expect the review will be ordered to go ahead when the ministers gather again in July.

Funding questions also remain. Ottawa has said it will not be upping its financial contributions for the next policy framework, despite adding new key areas, including food processing. How the program funding will be divvied up still needs to be finalized.

The six priority files for the next framework include: business risk management, the environment and climate change, value-added and food processing, research and innovation, trade and public trust.

Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay told reporters June 23 that work on the policy framework is continuing.

“We’re doing quite well, but we’re not fully there yet.”

Then there’s Ottawa’s plan to develop a national food policy. Agriculture Canada recently held a two-day summit on the idea with more than 250 stakeholders to discuss the proposed plan, which MacAulay said would “positively” complement the policy framework.

More than 16,000 public comments have been submitted thus far, giving federal bureaucrats a monumental task over the summer. Ottawa hopes to have its Food Plan for Canada in place by spring.

The national food policy will not be funded via the agriculture policy framework, MacAulay added.

On the trade front, there’s the Canada-U.S. trade file. Ottawa expects to see a draft list of American negotiating priorities, many of which are expected to be agriculture-related, in mid-July.

American rules stipulate the list must be made public to Congress 30 days before negotiations start. The formal 90-day American consultation period triggered in May ends Aug. 16.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has said he wants more Canadian access for American dairy, wine and wheat. Canada’s poultry markets, rules of origin, dispute resolution and better regulatory co-operation have also been flagged as possible negotiating topics.

MacAulay continues to take a “wait-and-see” approach on the file, insisting the three North American agriculture ministers all agree that the North American Free Trade Agreement has been a “favourable” trade deal for farmers.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office has been inundated with more than 12,000 submissions from Americans and industry on the pending NAFTA renegotiation. American Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has said Washington wants to start the negotiation as early as Aug. 17.

Meanwhile, Global Affairs Canada’s public consultations on NAFTA wrap up July 18. Canada’s agriculture ministers are expected to talk about the pending renegotiation of NAFTA at their coming meeting in St. John’s.

NAFTA isn’t the only trade file that still needs work. Implementation of the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement with Europe will likely be delayed be-cause of a dispute over Canada’s proposed cheese quota allocation. International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne was in Brussels recently for an emergency meeting with the EU agriculture commissioner to try and find a fix.

CETA was supposed to come into force July 1, a date Champagne appeared to be shying away from when asked about it June 21. The proposed quota breakdown had yet to be made public as of press time June 26.

Ottawa also needs to make a decision on the future of grain cash ticket deferrals, which the federal finance minister suggested should be eliminated in this year’s budget. Public consultations were supposed to wrap up May 24 but have been extended to July 24.

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