Lots of talk, few actions at ag ministers meeting

Action on AgriStability shortcomings could come by the end of the year

The annual meeting of Canadian agriculture ministers concluded with lots of talk — but no immediate changes along the lines recommended by a coalition of farm organizations.

The ministers’ closing statement said they discussed trade disputes, support for dairy and poultry producers, labour shortages, fixing business risk management programs and preventing African Swine Fever from getting a foothold in the country.

While the four-point action plan issued by the AgGrowth Coalition in advance of the meeting obviously influenced the ministers’ discussions, it will be the end of the year before any changes to the AgriStability plan are decided on, following further study by officials.

There was no direct response to the other three coalition requests — AgriInsurance coverage for livestock and horticulture crops not currently covered under it, BRM changes based on program effectiveness rather than funding levels and enabling farm groups to actively participate in BRM data and impact analysis.

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau told reporters after the conference that governments will work producers to set up a mechanism for BRM discussions that meet the producers’ expectations.

The BRM program is complex, which delays decisions on possible changes, she said.

“We are aware of the plight of the farmers and are studying the situation,” she said.

In addition to the AgriStability review, the ministers also agreed to begin work on the successor to the current Canadian Agriculture Partnership, now in its second year of funding programs to assist the growth of the sector.

The ministers noted the labour shortages affecting farmers and food processors and the need to overcome the administrative burden and processing delays employers encounter with the temporary foreign worker program. There will be continued engagement with the federal employment and immigration departments “on short-term administrative changes to be implemented in a timely fashion.” Provincial governments also have a role to play in resolving the shortages.

The statement also said the ministers unanimously supported international trade based on rules and science and agreed to continue to work together to take advantage of new trade agreements.

They also “discussed the current trade challenges facing industry, particularly the canola, pork and beef sectors, as well as durum wheat, pulses and soy, and recognized the need for urgent resolution and to work with the sector to support industry’s sustainability, profitability and growth.”

Bibeau said she will announce before this fall’s election the details of the support to be offered dairy and poultry producers to offset the impact of increased access to the Canadian market granted under the European, Pacific and new North American trade deals. Originally, she had hoped to announce that assistance by the end of June but the uncompleted state of the new NAFTA deal has complicated that issue.

The statement said ministers “agreed to continue collaborating with industry representatives on a pan-Canadian action plan and implementing the plan to help proactively mitigate the potential impacts of African swine fever (ASF). Continued efforts in preparedness planning, biosecurity for small-scale farms and the strategic management of wild pigs were part of the discussion.”

As well, the ministers “recognized the need to reduce regulatory red tape, and to put in place effective and responsive regulations that support innovation, growth and competitiveness, and protect health and environment. They endorsed a set of regulatory guiding principles, and committed to continuing their focus on traceability and surveillance activities.”

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