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Canola dispute a signal of new trade era

Times have turned more protectionist and Canadian canola is a casualty

Canadian canola has had problems in China before, but this time is different, says Jim Everson, president of the Canola Council of Canada.

In 2009 China threatened to block imports over fears Canadian canola could infect Chinese rapeseed with Canada’s more virulent strain of blackleg, a fungal disease.

In 2016 China wanted Canada to reduce canola dockage from 2.5 per cent to one per cent, claiming it would reduce the blackleg risk.

Both times China agreed to study the issue further with Canada.

“In both cases there was substantial market disruption,” Everson said. “There was a rebuilding of that trade to a point where China is now our most important seed market. So we have recovered the Chinese market in market access challenges in the past.

“What is new… is the more protectionist international environment that appears afoot in agriculture and in commerce generally, and the relationship between the United States and China, and between Canada and China… and it complicates the issue.”

Everson added that it’s not easy to determine when a solution will come, but said there’s been a lot of activity through a canola working group that involves industry and the federal and provincial governments.

There’s lots of speculation canola is caught up in the trade war between China and the U.S., and further complicated by Canada’s arrest of the Huawei executive, Everson said, adding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even referred to it while speaking to reporters May 10.

“It would appear to be less about issues China has raised about pests and more about other issues,” Everson said, while asking Bibeau given that environment, how will the government restore the canola trade with China?

“Obviously we cannot think it’s not the case,” Bibeau replied. “As minister of agriculture my first obligation is to defend the quality of our products and the fact that the inspection system is strong and reliable.

“For Canada, considering the size of our economy and the size of the economy of China and U.S.… our biggest strength is the fact that we have high-quality products, we are a reliable supplier, our inspection system is reliable as well.

“Obviously we look at the situation in a wider way so this is why it’s very important for us to engage… ”

During the recent G20 meeting in Japan, Bibeau delivered that message directly to China’s Agriculture Minister Han Changfu.

“I urged him that this issue must be resolved quickly,” she said.

“I also expressed that Canada is increasingly troubled by the lack of evidence provided to us regarding the pest concerns.

“I raised with Minister Han our request to have a high-level scientific delegation led by CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) to China to meet face to face to discuss this issue. And Minister Han agreed to raise the issue with the minister responsible with Customs China. We are ready to engage in person and we strongly urge China to join us in finding a solution.”

Canada’s ambassador recently delivered the same message to his Chinese counterpart at the World Trade Organization’s General Council in Geneva, Bibeau added.

Everson added later that the working group struck to restore trade, diversify markets and come up with suggestions for farm aid if needed, is considering all options.

“There’s a lot of discussion about this in the media, but I can assure you that there is a strategy afoot to deal with this,” he said. “It’s a strategy that the working group has been working on where there is support from industry, from the federal government and from the provincial representatives, so there’s a common approach and united approach on how to deal with it. And for obvious reasons it’s limited in how much of that strategy can be shared publicly.”

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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