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Italian opposition to Canadian durum a sore point

There’s been no clear indication of what Ottawa will do next

Other than meetings between Canadian and European cabinet ministers on the issue, there has been no action by Canada to reinforce its opposition to Italian pasta tariffs that have shut Canadian durum wheat out of what had been a key market.

Cam Dahl, president of Cereals Canada, said the industry is pushing Ottawa to step up on the issue but nothing new has happened even though the Italian Agriculture Minister Gian Marco Centinaio has said his country may not sign the Canada-Europe trade deal that came into effect last September because of the pasta issue.

In May, Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay said Canada might take the issue to the WTO.

Meanwhile Pierre-Olivier Herbert, press secretary to International Trade Minister Francois-Phillipe Champagne, said the minister was in Italy earlier in June “where he conveyed the benefits to the new government and together with those 12 nations that have already taken the step to ratify domestically.

Canada “will continue to work on national ratification throughout the EU,” he said. “That process takes time and requires a broad effort across all parties. In September of last year, 98 per cent of the free trade deal with Europe CETA went into effect across the EU with more than 9,000 tariff lines dropping to at or near zero and consumers and workers reaping the benefits of the most progressive deal ever negotiated.

“Canada is extremely disappointed with Italy’s treatment of Canada’s wheat exports. We are committed to actively promoting the interests of the Canadian wheat sector and will continue to do so in close co-operation with industry stakeholders and provincial partners.”

An Agriculture Canada spokesman said the government “is closely assessing the market situation in Italy in relation to the trade obligations under the WTO and the trade deal.

“We continue to work with the EU and Italy to continue providing quality Canadian durum exports to Italy,” he said.

Italian farm groups have alleged that Canadian durum is unsafe even though they have no scientific evidence to back up this claim, Canadian groups say. They want Ottawa to take a tough stand with Italy for the loss of a $500-million-a-year market. There has even been suggestions Canada should ban Italian wine in retaliation.

All 28 EU member states must approve the trade agreement for it to take full effect. In an interview with daily La Stampa, Centinaio said the Italian government would ask the parliament not to ratify the treaty since it does not ensure sufficient protection for the country’s specialty foods.

“We will not ratify the free trade treaty with Canada because it protects only a small part of our PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) products,” Centinaio told the newspaper.

The European Commission said it was working closely with EU members to ensure that the trade accord was mutually beneficial.

Coldiretti, an association of Italian agricultural companies, says the trade deal with Canada was “wrong and risky” for Italy. It said Italian food exports, equal to 41 billion euros last year, could triple with a serious fight against international food counterfeiting.

Some farm associations and critics in European states have expressed concerns about the threat of rapidly rising pork and beef imports from Canada. Coldiretti also mentioned risks posed by the annulment of duties on Canadian wheat, a country where the herbicide glyphosate can be used. The group did not add that there is no herbicide-resistant GM wheat in Canada.

Centinaio belongs to the far-right League party and is considered close to its leader and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini.

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