Prince Albert MP Randy Hoback wants to hear directly from local canola producers about the ongoing trade dispute with China.
Three Canadian companies have had their canola seed exports to China suspended for food security concerns, despite Canadian officials asserting that they have found nothing wrong in the sample.
Many see the move by the Chinese as a political play to react to Canada’s arrest of Chinese national Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Huawei, at the request of the American government.
The open house, set for April 26 in Tisdale, will give Hoback a chance to update local farmers on what he’s heard and listen to ideas he can then bring back to Ottawa.
“The goal is to give them as much information as I know so they can have all the facts in front of them,” Hoback said.
April is a critical time for producers, who are buying seed and determining which crop rotations to plant in their field. Canola prices and markets play a key role in that decision making, as it is part of many crop rotation cycles and typically is also a reliable cash crop for producers.
“It’s all up in the air,” Hoback said.
“In the meantime, if you’re a farmer, you’ve lost a huge market with no security. (Producers are) going to carry a large amount of canola into next year, and it’s going to impact the market price.”
China is the single largest importer of Canadian canola, accounting for about 40 per cent of the market.
Committees convened by the House of Commons have heard that there isn’t the capacity elsewhere to absorb that much canola quickly.
Hoback is also concerned that contracts with other crops, such as peas and wheat, or other products such as lumber, fish or maple syrup, could also be impacted.
“It’s created a lot of indecision and a lot of unknown factors.”
The federal government has said it is seeking an invitation from the Chinese government to send over a technical delegation to address the quality concerns raised by China.
So far, not only has the Canadian government not back, it hasn’t been able to obtain a sample from scientists in China.
“Everyone is saying this is not a quality issue. This is a political issue. Having said that, because they’re saying there’s foreign content in this canola, they have to check that box to prove there isn’t,” Hoback said.
While Hoback acknowledges that Canadian technical officials are ready to go to China to discuss the issue, he’s critical of how long it took the federal government to take action.
“They haven’t reached out to the Chinese Ambassador in Ottawa. The minister said that she was going to deal with her counterparts in China. From what we understand, she hasn’t even had her messages returned yet,” he said.
“They put together a special group just last week. The first sign that there was a possibility of a problem showed up in the first week of January and there was no move made by government officials to address that. We haven’t seen anything concrete. We haven’t been told of any plans or details. We haven’t been told if they’ve set deadlines to get this resolved.”
One thing Hoback also wants to do is to hear from local farmers about what they think should be done.
“I’m looking for some advice on how the government should be handling this from the perspective of the farmers. Should we be looking at retaliation? Should we be sending over a special convoy? There are some recommendations we’ve made already I’m just looking for other ideas to make sure their opinions are voiced in Ottawa.”
At least one area producer, Terry Youzwa of Nipawin, has already testified in front of a House Committee.
He’s a past chair of the Canadian Canola Council and formed part of a trade mission to China in 2014.
“There have been concerns before. I would suggest high-level negotiations are required. Strive to obtain a working arrangement immediately with a timeline to resolve this matter. We are overdue for a high-level political meeting to discuss what is ongoing and how to resolve it.
Youzwa suggested that previous experiences have shown a combination of technical and political talks can get things done
“China is a vital market,” he said. ‘They like and need our product. I am urging you to take actions on two fronts. One technical, and one political. Time is precious and our future and the economy of our nation is at stake.”
Like Youzwa, Hoback thinks some political pressure is necessary, both now and in the long term.
“This is a combination of the breakdown in our political relationship over the past two years, capped off with the Huawei affair,” he said.
The problem was exacerbated by lecturing on the separation of the political and justice system, which was undermined by the SNC-Lavalin affair, Hoback said.
Meanwhile, Canada doesn’t even have a full-time ambassador in China, he said.
“(The government) created the problem. Now, what are they going to do to fix it?” That’s a question I’m getting a lot from farmers,” Hoback said.
“(The government) hasn’t had an ongoing program to keep solidifying the relationship with our trading partners,” he said.
“When these people are your customers, you have to keep interacting with them to make sure they’re happy with the product, happy with the quality, keep building those personal relationships to draw upon when something happens like this. You’ve already got that relationship in place and that trust created. Then you can cash in this ticket at that point.
“When you have those relationships built up you can do that. when you don’t, you can’t even get an invitation letter to come over and talk about the problem.”
The open house is set for 7 p.m. on April 26 at the Tisdale RECPLex.