This is probably the most protectionist time since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
However, there are still opportunities for Canadian farmers to expand exports, says Canadian Foreigns Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
There are emerging markets in Africa and Asia where millions climbing out of poverty are willing to spend more on food, Freeland told the inaugural Canadian Crops Convention here March 6.
“That is a need that we are extremely well positioned to meet,” said Freeland, who was raised on an Alberta farm. “There’s not that much great agricultural land in the world. We need to appreciate… we can be part of that wonderful story by providing them some fantastic food.”
Support for free trade has waned in much of the world, but Canadians realize we are too small to rely on selling just to ourselves, Freeland said.
Both the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) involving 11 Pacific Rim countries, including Canada, and the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement with European Union, have been implemented.
“Those are real export opportunities for us,” Freeland said. “I would just encourage all of you to get out there and export.”
Cereals Canada president Cam Dahl noted trade irritants such as Italy’s restrictions on durum wheat imports.
“I think we do need to be realistic and appreciate that it is really a protectionist world out there,” Freeland said in response.
“I predict there will be more such irritants in places where we never even thought of and we just have to keep on working at it.”
Freeland also said the Canadian government is working with Canada’s canola industry to restore Richardson International’s canola exports to China.
The NAFTA negotiations also underscored the importance of Canada developing new markets, she added.
“Diversification is always going to be our friend.”
When farmer Gerry Hertz of SaskCanola asked how to counter claims Canadian food is unsafe because it’s derived through modern techniques, Freeland replied: “I think we need to work together to assure the people of the truth, which is our collective approach is incredibly safe, incredibly science based and the core objective always is to grow healthy food to feed people.”
However, Freeland added, ultimately farmers need to meet consumer preferences.
“We might not agree with all those preferences, but there are going to be economic opportunities for us,” she said. “We’re not going to be able to change the preferences of all the consumers in the world.”