Agriculture minister backs freer domestic trade

Canada loves international trade but has domestic barriers

Lawrence MacAulay, federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

Dismantling internal trade barriers will make Canada more competitive and is a priority for the federal government.

Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay told the Senate during his scheduled appearance for question period he’s been hearing about the issue since he was first elected in 1998, and it’s past time for change.

“We’re big on international trade and yet we have difficulty with our own internal trade,” MacAulay said.

“We want to break down the barriers and ensure that something produced or manufactured across the bridge in Quebec can move across the border. Or if it’s in New Brunswick, then it can come across to Prince Edward Island. We want to work on that. It’s not a new issue but it’s an issue that very much needs to be addressed.”

MacAulay went on to say fixing internal trade problems is a priority for both the government and himself personally.

The minister was pressed on the topic in light of a recent Senate committee report that said internal trade barriers cost the Canadian economy at least $50 billion annually in higher costs. While the report didn’t offer specific figures by sector, many of the barriers it cited were in the agri-food sector.

“Some of the recently negotiated international trade agreements would make it easier for international businesses to trade with Canada than it currently is for Canadian businesses in one province/territory to trade with other provinces/territories,” the committee said in the report.

MacAulay agreed, saying as a trading nation it’s more than a little ironic to find such internal barriers exist and are well entrenched.

“We are working actively with provincial and territorial counterparts to address the broader issues of internal trade,” MacAulay said. “Better-regulated internal markets support a competitive and innovative agriculture and agri-food sector, in addition to reducing costs for reduction and increasing productivity.”

One proposed solution was to have all food inspection done by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency so it could be sold anywhere in Canada.

Senator Ghislain Maltais, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, urged MacAulay to ask Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “put interprovincial trade barriers on the agenda of the next meeting of the Council of the Federation in order to study their removal. We are talking about free trade agreements with other countries. Therefore, it is really extraordinary that the provinces cannot trade with one another. That is a major point made by Canadian farmers.”

While not an internal trade barrier, Senator Percy Mockler scolded the minister for failing to deal with imported chicken that is being falsely declared as spent fowl, in order to circumvent border controls.

“While chicken coming into Canada is subject to import controls, spent fowl is not. In 2015, an estimated minimum of 37 million kilograms of chicken meat were brought into the country under the guise of spent fowl. These illegal imports represent significant losses to the Canadian workforce, as well as to the Canadian economy,” Mockler said.

“As a result of import control issues facing the chicken sector,” he added, “we are losing approximately 4,500 new jobs that could be created in Canada, and we’re also losing $140 million in sales every single year.”

Mockler has proposed a DNA test developed at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont. be employed at the border “to distinguish between chicken and spent fowl vis-a-vis the illegal importation of chicken into Canada.”

The senator didn’t get an answer.

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