Canadian farm groups and the Canadian Wheat Board were quick with praise last week for a federal initiative to launch free trade negotiations with Morocco, saying a deal is needed to keep Canadian durum and pulse exports competitive with shipments from the United States.
The U.S. has had an FTA with the North African country since 2006 and is using falling tariffs to lure away Canadian customers.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, and International Trade Minister Peter Van Loan were in Rabat for the launch of the talks, which have been under discussion since a Ritz visit in 2009.
Canada shipped $267 million in agricultural products to Morocco in 2009, almost all of it wheat.
“Western Canadian farmers now supply 80 per cent of the durum imported by Morocco, where it is a staple food source,” said CWB president Ian White.
“We cannot afford to have our dominant position eroded if the United States retains preferent ial wheat market access. Canadian farmers need a free trade agreement that puts them on an equal footing with their major durum competitors.”
“A free trade agreement with Morocco is of particular importance to Canada’s grain and pulse sectors,” said Kathleen Sullivan, executive director of the Canadian Agri- Food Trade Alliance, which represents farmers and food processors.
The U.S.-Morocco free trade deal in 2006 put “our Canadian exporters at a competitive disadvantage and threatens the markets we have developed in the country,” she said.
Morocco also bought $14 million worth of peas and lentils in 2009 and the delegation sees other sales opportunities.
“Increasing disposable incomes, a relatively young population, and a large tourism industry could also lead to growing opportunities for branded, packaged and processed food products in this country,” said Sullivan.
Livestock genetics and feed could also become import-export commodities. In return, Canada could import more specialty foods, fruits and vegetables.
“The Morocco negotiations are an example of farm groups and governments partnering to generate economic growth,” said Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. “The CFA encourages the government to focus its approach on bilateral and multilateral agreements in areas of the world where there are significant trade opportunities, where Canada hasn’t previously developed valuable trade relationships.”
Richard Phillips, executive director of the Grain Growers of Canada, who accompanied Ritz to Rabat, said Morocco “import and export interests are ready and eager to do business with us, as we are with them.”
An FTA “with the rapidly modernizing country of Morocco will be an important foot in the door to the North African marketplace,” he said.
Gordon Bacon, president of Pulse Growers of Canada, who was also in Rabat, said Canada needs the FTA “to keep Canadian farmers competitive in Morocco. Without it, we’ll be behind the eight ball because of the advantage the Americans have.” Such bilateral trade deals help keep the trade playing field level, he added.