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Canada Defends Wheat Board Monopoly At WTO

Canada’s Conservative government is defending the Canadi an Wheat Board’s grain-marketing monopoly at World Trade Organization talks, even though it has long said it wants to scrap it, CWB chairman Larry Hill said Sept. 17.

“We had good assurance from the Government of Canada that farmers’ (ability to) adhere to the single desk will be defended,” Hill said in an interview with Reuters. “That’s what we were hoping to hear.”

The wheat board has a government-granted monopoly on sales of wheat and malt barley from Western Canada, the country’s main grain-growing region.

However, the CWB’s monopoly was included in a draft text at last week’s WTO talks in Geneva, which would end the monopoly by 2013, according to the CWB.

Hill and wheat board chief executive Ian White met in Ottawa Sept. 15 with Trade Minister Stockwell Day and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.

“Decisions about the Canadian Wheat Board should be made at home in Canada,” Ritz said Sept. 17 through a spokeswoman. “We’re going to continue to stand up for Canadian farmers at the WTO and work hard to deliver a deal that’s good for all of our producers.”

The CWB has long been the target of attacks by U. S. farmers, who accuse it of dumping wheat into the United States and forcing down prices, a charge the CWB denies.

The board can price grain without the same risk premium other grain marketers must include because farmers are forced to sell to it and the Canadian government underwrites the initial payments to farmers, said Jim Peterson, marketing director of the North Dakota Wheat Commission.

The Canadian government’s aim is to increase trade by reducing tariffs the country’s exports face, eliminating export subsidies and protecting “key agricultural sectors such as supply management,” Ritz said.

Government aid for U. S. and European farmers is a particular concern for Ottawa, Hill said.

While Ottawa is coming to the CWB’s defence this week, its political dealings with the board have mostly been combative. The CWB and Ritz publicly feuded earlier this year, with Ritz demanding an audit of losses in the board’s contingency fund, which underwrites the risk of price hedging.

The CWB and Ritz have quietly held several face-to-face meetings recently, but the agriculture minister has not raised his February call for an audit, Hill said.

Through his spokeswoman, Ritz said he would not comment on private meetings, but repeated his call for a “comprehensive audit” to demonstrate the CWB’s accountability to farmers.

The CWB is open to an audit, but wants to meet with government staff to go over its records. The contingency fund is likely to balance this year, Hill added.

While the minority Conservative government has said it wants to legislate an end to the CWB’s marketing monopoly, allowing western farmers to sell directly to customers, no other political party supports the idea.

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