“We are starting to see signals already that this Government wants to engage stakeholders in some of the discussions,” said Ron Bonnett, President of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA).
“I had a call from the new Minister [of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lawrence MacAuley] within 24 hours of his appointment and he called in to the CFA Board Meeting yesterday to discuss what our priority issues are and how he can engage with the farming community. It’s very encouraging.”
Trade a Priority
One of those priority issues for agriculture is trade agreements, and Mr Bonnett predicts a focus on making sure Canadian agriculture is ready to take advantage of opportunities.
“We already have CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) with Europe and now we have the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and although these agreement s deal with tariffs and other barriers they don’t guarantee access to markets,” said Mr Bonnett.
“I think there will be a focus, now that we have these markets opened up, on how we can ensure that agriculture, particularly from the food processing side can increase market penetration into the TPP countries as well as Europe.”
The Trans-Pacific Partnership – a 12 country trade pact negotiated by the outgoing Conservatives which reduces tariff and relaxes import restrictions has been a high profile issue in the election campaign.
Minister MacAuley has already stated publicly that he sees nothing in the TPP agreement at this point that would prevent him for supporting it and Mr Bonnett believes the new Canadian Government will ratify the agreement.
“I strongly suspect that the Liberal Government will move ahead with the TPP mainly from a business perspective,” said Mr Bonnett. “I don’t think Canada can afford to be outside of the deal. It would leave us at a competitive disadvantage with some of our main trading competitors like Australia and the United States, especially when you consider trading into the Japanese market.”
The United State’s discriminatory Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) legislation has restricted access to US markets and a World Trade Organisation ruling confirmed it has had a negative impact on Canadian farmers, and opens the way for Canada to impose retaliatory measures.
“I think that the message we are getting from the new government is that they expect the US or any other country to stay true to their trade obligations, and I think we will see them follow through on COOL,” said Mr Bonnett.
More Research and Labour
Mr Bonnett said he’s hopeful that the government will also re-fill some key research scientist positions and include agricultural research as part of a new Science and Innovation Fund that it promised to establish during the election campaign.
Recent changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Programme has made it harder for some sectors, including agriculture, to fill its labour needs and Mr Bonnett hopes to see some action taken to help relieve the shortage of workers in agriculture and food processing.
“I believe we will see a focus on immigration policy to help fill some of the agricultural vacancies that are there with immigrants coming into the country,” said Mr Bonnett.
Developing a Long Term Strategy
Overall Mr Bonnett sees the Government and farm groups working together on a long term strategy for Canadian agriculture.
“I think it’s fair to say that over the last couple of years quite often decisions have been made jumping from one crisis to another, so there needs to be a willingness to engage the industry in a discussion about everything from taxation issues to research to the regulatory system and how it can all line up to help agriculture take advantage of opportunities,” he said.
“We also need to discuss how we deal with some of the consumers’ perceptions of food production – everything from herbicides, pesticides, GMOs, hormones, to modern farming techniques. Taking a more strategic, industry-focused approach to addressing those concerns will be critical.”
With a government that has more urban politicians than ever before, farm groups will need to be proactive in promoting the importance of the agricultural sector and how it functions, said Mr Bonnett.
“There is work to be done by the agricultural community to raise the awareness of agricultural issues and about the huge economic impact that agriculture has right across the country,” he said.