Parliament to resume hectic pace, including ag issues

Parliament’s hectic pace before it rose for its holiday break is expected continue when MPs return to Ottawa at the end of January.

There are several files worth noting for Canadian agriculture, starting with this country’s future trading relationship with its southern neighbours .

Canadian, Mexican and American negotiators are getting set to meet in Montreal next week (ahead of Parliament’s return) for the sixth round of renegotiation talks. The round will take place Jan. 23-28.

A withdrawal by the United States continues to be a possibility. However, the rhetoric from Washington does seem to have toned down in recent days.

After threatening, again, to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement at the end of December, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has now said it is open to extending the talks past the March end date, a suggestion Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland called sensible.

The potential extension of talks comes after two unnamed Canadian officials told Reuters they were becoming more convinced the U.S. would announce its intent to withdraw from the trilateral trade pact at the end of January.

The story (which other unnamed Canadian officials and the White House both pushed back against) shocked North American markets. The Mexican peso and Canadian loonie both dropped in value, a market risk that is unlikely to dissipate any time soon.

Meanwhile, Mexican officials have confirmed they will walk away from NAFTA if the United States walks away.

It’s worth noting NAFTA supporters have credited the market’s sudden dip for helping trigger a tone change from the White House, however short-lived it may be.

Expect more queries about NAFTA contingency plans and concerns about market uncertainty throughout 2018.

NAFTA isn’t the only trade file worth watching this winter. Canada’s ongoing trade spat with India over pulse exports seems unlikely to disappear any time soon.

Meanwhile, Japan has made it clear that Canada’s participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership isn’t guaranteed.

For their part, this country’s agriculture sector has made it clear that Canada must secure improved Japanese market access.

Canada and China also continue to engage in exploratory trade talks, while over at the World Trade Organization, Canada has filed a wide-ranging trade complaint against some 200 American trade policies and rules.

The year 2018 will also see Canada assume the G7 presidency, with a two-day summit planned for June 8-9. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled Canada’s priorities for its chairmanship in December. They include the environment and climate change, job creation, gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Of note to Canadian agriculture: Canadian officials told a gathering of global animal health experts that Ottawa also plans to prioritize biological threat reduction during its G7 presidency year.

Closer to home, Ottawa must finalize the Canadian Agricultural Partnership by April 1. Negotiations between Ottawa and the provinces will continue throughout the winter, while some program applications are already underway.

On the business risk management front: Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay created an advisory panel to look at ways to improve the programs. The external panel’s findings will be presented at the next federal-provincial ministerial meeting in July.

Several parliamentary committee reports are also expected.

The Senate Agriculture and Forestry Committee has yet to table its in-depth study on Canadian farmland values. Over at the House of Commons Health Committee, reports are expected on the committee’s study of the Canada Food Guide and antimicrobial resistance.

On the regulatory front, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency continues to reconsider and/or propose the phase out of several pesticides famers say are critical to their operations, including neonicotinoid pesticides.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is moving ahead with its regulatory modernization and the Senate continues to review the transportation bill.

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