Canadian wheat and pulse growers need Canada to ratify free trade deals with Peru and Colombia to stay competitive with Argentina and the United States.
Wheat import tariffs have historically been as high as 17 per cent into Peru and 15 per cent into Colombia. Without a free trade deal, tariffs could cut Canadian grain out of these important, nearby markets for top-quality wheat, Canadian Wheat Board president and CEO Ian White said in a phone interview from Peru May 22.
“If we do get free trade agreements (FTAs) we certainly see the ability to compete more effectively with the U. S. and Argentina into these markets,” he said during a trade mission led by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. “We would hope to grow our market share here with the FTAs in place.”
Peru and Colombia together are worth about $230 million a year to Prairie wheat and barley farmers, who sell an average of 780,000 tonnes of wheat and 83,000 tonnes of malting barley there annually.
Both are important markets to Canadian pulse growers too. Colombia is Canada’s seventh largest market for pulses and special crops, with exports of $80 million, or 102,000 tonnes, in 2008. But Canadian pulses face a 15 per cent import tariff that U. S. competitors soon won’t pay, pending ratification of their own trade deal.
Canada’s exports of pulse and special crops to Peru totalled nearly $19 million in 2008. But the U. S. could take over much of that market because it reached a free trade deal with Peru in February.
As a result, Canada’s peas and lentils could face as much as a 25 per cent tariff disadvantage, while Canadian canary seed faces a 12 per cent hit. Peruvian tariffs add $75 to $100 a tonne to the cost of lentils landed at around $1,000 a tonne, Pulse Canada CEO Gordon Bacon said in a phone interview from Peru.
Colombia and Peru are anxious to work with Canada, Ritz told reporters via telephone. “They like Canadian product, they like dealing with Canadian industry,” he said. “It’s up to us as politicians to get these deals through.”
Canadian beef and pork industry officials were also on the trade mission.
Ritz accused the Bloc Quebecois and NDP of trying to delay the deals. In addition to encouraging trade, the agreements will encourage both countries to enhance human rights and improve labour and environmental standards, according to Ritz.
White and Bacon said they’d like the free trade agreements in place to cover new-crop sales.
To speed up the process Ritz said he wants the House of Commons and Senate agriculture committees to hold a joint session to review the proposed deals.
Last month Ritz led a trade mission to Morocco laying the groundwork for an FTA with Canada. And free trade talks between Canada and the European Union have begun. Ritz said he wants to negotiate trade agreements with India and China.
“There are tremendous opportunities when you look at the population that’s hungry around the world,” he said. “They’re looking for quality foodstuffs. We’ve got them and we’re here to sell them.”
Canada hasn’t given up on multilateral trade talks through the World Trade Organization, but they’ve stalled so Canada is negotiating bilateral deals, he said.
“We’re playing catch-up, no doubt about it,” Ritz said.
Bacon said he was impressed with the high standard of food processing in Peru and Colombia. There’s a lot interest in food nutrition and the environmental impact of food production – something Canada’s agriculture industry is discussing.
Both countries are interested in importing more pulses because they’re economic forms of protein and important foodstuffs for poorer consumers.
“Moving to implement these agreements has some social benefits here in these countries as well as economic benefits to Canadian exporters,” Bacon said.
“If we get these long-term agreements in place people will be more interested in doing production innovation because they have a stable and predictable cost structure in place.”
The Canadian Federation of Agriculture and Grain Growers of Canada also support Canada’s free trade efforts. [email protected]