Federal government to update canola situation Wednesday morning

Susanne Nilsson/Creative Commons

The federal government is making an announcement this morning related to the ongoing trade dispute with China surrounding exports of Canadian canola.

A press conference with Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and with International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr has been announced for Wednesday morning on Parliament Hill. The announcement is set for 9:30 Eastern, or 7:30 a.m. local, and will be streamed by the government on Facebook and on Twitter.

According to an exclusive report by Global News, the announcement could be about farmer support and about new trade missions to other countries n an effort to clear some of the canola backlog.

The price of canola has plummeted over the last month since the Chinese government banned two major Canadian exporters from bringing canola seeds into the country. The Chinese government cited biosecurity concerns about contaminants found in Canadian canola seed, but the Candian Food Inspection Agency, which re-assessed its samples, said there are no concerns about contaminants.

The federal government has requested permission for a technical delegation to go to China to sort out the differences. It has also requested the Chinese samples in order to do its own analysis. As of press time, it was still waiting to hear back.

China is the biggest single importer of Canadian canola, accounting for 40 per cent of all of Canada’s international canola trade. At a House of Commons committee hearing, officials testified that there wasn’t a single nation that could make up for that demand.

Meanwhile, producers who have prepared their fields for planting and who still have last year’s canola in the bin are seeing their potential profits plummet.

Industry and producer groups, farmers and politicians have all made various suggestions about what to do, both to help farmers get through this season and to resolve the dispute long-term.

Hoback hears producers’ concerns

Some of those suggestions and concerns were brought forward locally to opposition MP and elected representative for the Prince Albert riding Randy Hoback.

He held a canola open house last Friday in an effort to update producers and hear concerns from constituents.

‘We had about 30-35 people come out to it. It was a good exchange of ideas and it was a good meeting,” Hoback said when reached by phone Tuesday.

“What they’re upset about is they feel they’re a victim of a political process or a political spat between our government and the Chinese government about things that have nothing to do with their industry or the products they grow.”

While China insists the importing ban is only about contaminants, many have suggested it is just the latest salvo in worsening diplomatic relations between the two nations.

Hoback said the producers who attended Friday’s meetings supported an increase to the cash advance program, similar to what Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe suggested or an extension of the Agristability deadline.

“It was also a good chance to just express their frustration and vent a bit, which I think s always healthy too,” Hoback said.

He explained that producers are facing two situations. One is the declining value of the crop they still have in the bin from last year, and the other is what to do with this year’s planting plans.

I had a farmer say that of his 1,000 acres, he’s lost 50 bucks an acre on old crop, so that’s 50,000 roughly in his farm that he’s lost right now. What’s also happening is because the canola market has declined, we’re seeing other markets decline also. People are speculating about growing more wheat, growing more barley, growing more pulses to get away from the issues of canola. It’s really a confusing time for farmers to decide what to do” Hoback explained.

“Plus, a lot of times, farmers will go and put their fertilizer down in the fall and you just can’t switch from a crop that uses 120 pounds of nitrogen in areas like canola to something like oats that uses  0 or 15 or 30 pounds of nitrogen. It doesn’t make agronomical sense and is just not feasible. in some ways, they are restricted.”

The other frustration, he said, was in a perceived lack of communication.

“What they are really looking for is that first of all the government cares and has a game plan in place to see a resolution to that, that they’re taking  the issue seriously, that they’re communicating to farmers about what’s happening and what’]here things are at, and those are things we’re not seeing from this government at this point in time.”

Hoback himself placed the blame at the feet of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He called on the federal government to send an ambassador to China, to increase Advanced Payment Program loan limits and to launch a formal trade complaint with the World Trade Organization, all positions advocated for by Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.

“In this scenario, they could take the grain that’s not going to be sold and allow that advance instead of it being forced to be paid back right away, let it be paid back when that grain gets sold in the new crop year,” he said, according to the East-Central Recorder.

Moe calls for retaliatory scrutiny

While the federal conservatives call on the ruling Liberals to issue a trade complaint, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has some other ideas.

Moe was scheduled to have a phone call with the prime minister Tuesday. He wasn’t available to the media following his call, however, he Tweeted that he expects “an announcement very soon,” and that he remains hopeful “for a positive response from Ottawa.”

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Moe called for stronger action from the feds.

“We’ve had a long and valued trade relationship with …  China from Saskatchewan’s perspective, and if that relationship is deteriorating in the way that we have boats full of canola waiting to unload in Chinese ports, we need to be reciprocal in our scrutiny of imports coming from that nation into the west coast of Canada,” he said.

Moe declined to specify publicly exactly what he would like to see targeted with equal scrutiny, but he rejected the argument that it would serve to make the situation worse.

“I don’t know you can escalate the tensions any higher. We need to ensure that we are treating our trading partners in exactly the same way they are treating us,” he said.

Moe stressed how important the issue is for the province. About 70 per cent of what the province produces becomes an export. China is the province’s second largest trading partner.

The province averages $14- to $15-billion in agriculture exports each year, and about 50 per cent of cash receipts have come from canola.

“The reason we are in China is due very much to us diversifying to other crops such as canola and diversifying away from North American markets into other areas of the world,” Moe said.

He also said Canada and Saskatchewan need to expand their trading relationship to include as many customers as possible. Whatever happens, Moe would like to see it sooner rather than later.

“The time to make a decision was two weeks ago, but we’re hopeful it will happen in the next couple of days and we look forward to what that decision is,” he said.