Two years after China began restricting imports of Canadian canola seed there are no signs normal sales will resume any time soon.
“Unfortunately there isn’t any real change to report on,” Brian Innes, the Canola Council of Canada’s (CCC) vice-president of public affairs, said in an interview March 10.
And while there seems to be little that the CCC or Canadian government can do about that the CCC is launching a revitalized market access plan to prevent and resolve future trade restrictions, he said.
“The things in our Market Access Report take time to do and implement,” Innes said.
“As a sector we want to position ourselves better for the future and to ensure government understands what our priorities are because putting the mechanisms to do that takes time.”
He noted that market access issues can pop up with little or no warning, which makes having a plan in place a vital strategy.
“When the house is on fire, that’s not the time to think about how to prevent it from burning down,” Innes said. “We want to focus on preventing issues and being more effective in dealing with them when they come.”
He said that the impact the Chinese ban on Canadian canola shipments underscores the size of the challenges and should be a “wake-up call” for the government, driving it to put mechanisms in place to address future issues.
“We want to work with governments on preventing fires and not calling 911 when there’s a problem,” Innes said.
Canada accounts for 68 per cent of the world’s canola trade. With 90 per cent of Canada’s canola destined for export as seed, oil or meal, access to export markets is critical, the CCC says.
Canada has free trade agreements with 60 per cent of the world’s economy. Making agreements is complex and so is making sure trading partners abide them is too.
“Effective mechanisms for dispute resolutions are critical to ensure the successful implementation of a free trade agreement,” the plan says.
Protectionism is on the rise, even more so in the wake of COVID, the paper says. Non-tariff trade barriers are too, through domestic food safety and phytosanitary regulations, which sometimes aren’t science based.
The CCC’s plan focuses on four main areas:
- Eliminate tariffs and tariff differentials to expand markets and create more stability.
- Create a predictable trading environment through science-based sanitary and phytosanitary rules.
- Enable technology advancements and access to innovation and technology.
- Enable market growth, increased value and trade diversification through biofuel and sustainability approvals.
New technology allowing regulators to more closely scrutinize crops is good for safety, but sometimes can be abused, the plan says.
“For example, minute levels of a plant disease’s DNA found in a sample has been used to justify blocking shipments, even though the presence of DNA does not mean the pathogen is viable or presents a risk,” it reads.
The plan says Canada is guilty of not practising what it preaches on science-based rules designed to create international standards when assessing maximum residue levels (MRL) for pesticides on crops.
“As a country, we are often advocating that trade partners utilize Codex (Alimentarius ) to align their MRLs with the internationally recognized safety standards,” the plan says. “But Canada maintains its own MRL list that is not always the same as Codex.”
The CCC’s access plan also looks at Canada’s major canola customers identifying trade issues to address and opportunities.