The United States’ wheat lobby is glad to be rid of Canada’s single-desk wheat seller; now it wants better access to Canadian wheat markets.
U.S. Wheat Associates sent a letter to Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz May 20 saying Canadian wheat grading and varietal registration regulations unfairly discriminate against U.S. imports.
“It is readily apparent to us that Canada’s treatment of imported wheat is less favourable than that of domestic wheat through its grading system,” says the letter, likening it to U.S. country-of-origin labelling (COOL) rules for meat.
“Specifically, the WTO Appellate Body found that the COOL (country-of-origin labelling) measure was ‘inconsistent with Article 2.1 of the TBT (Technical Barriers to Trade) Agreement because it accords less favourable treatment to imported livestock than to like domestic livestock,’” the letter from the U.S. Wheat Associates and National Association of Wheat Growers says.
“U.S. producers are at a direct disadvantage in the Canadian system because Canadian law requires that imported wheat be assigned the lowest official grade established, thereby requiring segregation,” the letter says. “Furthermore, the VRS places undue burdens on registering U.S.-grown varieties by including irrelevant agronomic factors that are never specified by an end-user and thus add no value to a transaction.”
The U.S. is not on the brink of filing a WTO complaint, but American wheat farmers believe they’ve been more than patient since the Canadian Wheat Board lost its monopoly in 2012, Dalton Henry, U.S. Wheat Associates director of policy said in an interview May 27.
In 2013-14, Canadian wheat exports to the U.S. jumped by 66 per cent to three million tonnes, he said. “Because of the hurdles, very small volumes of (American) wheat cross the border,” even when there’s a price advantage to do so, Henry said.
Canada is making changes that should address U.S. concern. Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz has announced recommending committees will be allowed to use data from American wheat trials, speeding up the registration process. And if passed, Bill C-48 will allow registered American wheats to get the same Canadian grade as if they were grown in Canada.
Unfortunately, C-48 could die on the order paper, Henry said.
U.S. Wheat Associates is not opposed to wheat breeders focusing on agronomic traits, which is a requirement for varietal registration here; it just doesn’t see that it’s relevant to wheat buyers.
U.S. Wheat Associates doesn’t know how much American wheat will come to Canada when Canadian regulations change. North Dakota wheat production averages 9.3 million tonnes a year — almost three times Manitoba’s. Twenty-five per cent or 2.3 million tonnes of North Dakota’s wheat production is within 50 miles of a Canadian elevator, Henry said.
“That certainly wouldn’t be the amount that would move, but we see that as the potential if the U.S. farmer had the ability to truck across the border,” Henry said.
“(T)he Canadian industry has been really good at working on this with us and helping to put forward changes through C-48.”
Ritz is also on board.
“Our government understands the importance of the highly integrated North American agriculture industry to our overall economy,” he said in an email May 22. “That is why we introduced Bill C-48, which will enable the same registered grain grown in the U.S. to be given a Canadian grade. These important changes would have never been possible let alone considered under the old single desk.”
Changes to Canada’s wheat registration system will benefit Canadian farmers with more options and also remove an American trade irritant, said Cereals Canada president Cam Dahl.
“And in no way would that compromise Canadian quality,” he added. “Our quality control system remains in place.”
National Farmers Union president Terry Boehm disagrees. Accommodating American wheats will undermine Canada’s high-quality “brand” benefiting multinational grain companies at farmers’ expense, he said.
“We have had a massive plum given to them (Americans) with the destruction of the single-desk Canada Wheat Board and this is just another signal that they won’t be content until they’ve destroyed every mechanism that we have,” Boehm said from his farm near Allan, Sask.