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WTO ineffective, Canada not defending science, says Richardson VP

A senior official of one of the companies at the forefront of Canada’s ongoing trade dispute with China over canola says the World Trade Organization (WTO) cannot be relied upon, and that science-based decision-making is threatened on a domestic and international level.

“We simply can’t rely on the existing WTO process as being the most efficient way of dealing with these issues when they’re raised,” said Jean-Marc Ruest, senior vice-president, corporate affairs and general counsel at Richardson International.

On Sept. 9, Canada sent a letter to the WTO challenging China’s ban on canola seed imports.

Richardson is one of the companies issued a non-compliance notification from the Chinese government, which cites pest and quality concerns as the reasoning why.

Ruest, who spoke this week during a Canada 2020 National Forum on Agri-Food: Competing in a New World Order panel, contended the agri-food sector in Canada is “quickly abandoning” science.

“In response to social and political trends, we’ve increasingly pressured our governments, federally, provincially and municipal and their regulators to adopt policies and make decisions in the agri-food space,” he said. “Particularly with respect to regulation and registration of agri-food products, and technologies that are moving away from scientific rational justification.”

He said the science behind food safety is being confused with changing consumer demand.

“While we ridicule individuals who refuse to listen to the science of climate change, we accept with worrying ease the postulations of individuals and groups in relation to agriculture food production… ” he said.

He said that is “severely limiting” Canada’s ability to argue sanitary and phytosanitary measures taken internationally against the country, through non-tariff measures, must be done only if scientifically justified.

“The time has come… to make a conscious decision as Canadians whether we want our agri-food sector to not only regulate itself but to evolve based on scientific fact, or on something else,” he said.

“If that is the desired position, and I personally think that would be an error of monumental proportions, than let’s be candid and say so,” he said. “At least all stakeholders will know where we stand. If that is not our intention, then we need to correct course very quickly… ”

He cited pressures on glyphosate and municipal level bans on cosmetic pesticides that “fly in the face of science” when prompted to provide examples.

About the author

Reporter

D.C. Fraser is Glacier FarmMedia’s Ottawa-based reporter. Growing up mostly in Alberta, Fraser also lived in Saskatchewan for ten years where he covered politics, including a stint teaching at the University of Regina’s School of Journalism. He is an avid fan of the outdoors and a pretty good beer league hockey player. His passion for agriculture and agri-food policy comes naturally: Six consecutive generations of his family have worked in the industry.

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