“I’m not sure why they would wait for me to lead a trade mission. I think they should be here on a month-by-month basis. This is an important market.”
– gerry ritz
When Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz went to Morocco to promote more trade, he failed to take along the agency responsible for most of Canada’s exports to that country – the Canadian Wheat Board.
Instead, he took one of its biggest critics – a representative of the Grain Growers of Canada.
“They (CWB) always tell me they have global outreach, they have salesmen throughout the world,” Ritz told reporters during a telephone news conference April 17. “I’m not sure why they would wait for me to lead a trade mission. I think they should be here on a month-by-month basis. This is an important market.”
Indeed it is, especially for the CWB and Prairie durum growers. Morocco routinely is the CWB’s second-largest export durum customer, following Algeria. Last crop year Morocco imported 622,000 tonnes of western Canadian durum wheat worth around $300 million. Exports there have averaged 476,000 tonnes during the previous 10 years.
Last year the board was responsible for nearly all of Canada’s $450 million exports to Morocco. In most years, CWB sales to the North African country represent 60 to 80 per cent of total Canadian imports.
But Canada is in danger of losing its large share of the durum market to the United States, which signed a free trade agreement with Morocco four years ago. The CWB has been urging the Canadian government to follow suit.
“We need a deal that can put western Canadian farmers on an even footing with their global competitors,” CWB president and CEO Ian White said in a news release praising the federal government for starting free trade talks with Morocco. “Canada cannot afford to jeopardize its favour-able position in one of the few significant world markets for high-quality durum.”
The CWB says it has built close relationships with Moroccan millers and grain buyers over the past 15 years to triple its share of the country’s durum import market since 1995-96. Each year, the CWB brings Moroccan grain-industry representatives to Winnipeg for technical development sessions at the Canadian International Grains Institute. The CWB conducts regular market development missions to Morocco, most recently in December 2008.
White said the CWB would be pleased to help the government reach a free trade agreement with Morocco. Moments after Ritz was asked about snubbing the CWB, officials from his office called the wheat board to invite it to take part in a future mission to Morocco.
Canada also wants to increase its pulse crop exports to Morocco, Ritz said. That’s why Pulse Canada was included in the mission, he said. Last crop year Canada didn’t export any dry peas or lentils to Morocco, but exports of each averaged 667,550 and 218,880 tonnes, respectively during the previous two crop years.
Imports are hampered by a 50 per cent tariff on Canadian lentils and an 80 per cent tariff on Canadian peas.
“Morocco is a key hub in North Africa with access into other Mediterranean countries also with access into the European Union,” Ritz said. “Those commodities (durum and pulse crops) are very much in demand here and we seek to build on those marketplaces.”
Moroccan farmers are also looking for Canadian dairy and crop genetics, as well as new technology, as they shift out of subsistence farming, Ritz said.
There’s also an opportunity for Canada to export beef to Morocco, he said.
Canadians are interested in buying high-quality Moroccan citrus crops and vegetables, Ritz said.