Farmers and the canola industry need a new squad of trade firefighters to stamp out early sparks before they flare, says the Canola Council of Canada.
It wants the federal government to establish a network of technical trade officials in Asia to stop non-tariff complications stopping or slowing trade.
“We want to see more investment in Asia by creating an Asian diversification office,” said Brian Innes, CCC’s vice-president for public affairs.
“We need to be preventing issues and better able to resolve them.”
While Canada already has overseas trade officials and technical staff that can be deployed to places that develop problems, the canola industry believes that permanent staffing will be needed for a future that appears to be much less supportive of open free trade.
“The world is changing around us and without action we will fall backwards,” said Innes.
“It’s not static and things are moving in ways that are not helping us.”
A combination of increasing importer/buyer demands and resistance to open trade are making trade snarls and disputes more common.
The CCC hopes that some can be resolved early before becoming bogged down in politics and bureaucracy.
“These non-tariff issues are becoming more prevalent,” said Innes.
The federal international trade minister’s office sounds supportive of the canola industry’s desire to expand and strengthen exports, but is non-committal on the request for more Asia staff.
“Our government will continue to work closely with the canola industry, including the CCC and its members, on trade diversification,” said Youmy Han, press secretary to Mary Ng, minister for small business, export promotion and international trade.
“We will always stand up for our canola farmers and producers. We place a high priority on increasing our exports to the Asia-Pacific region, including those of agriculture and agrifoods sectors.”
Before the diplomatic crisis with China threw Canada’s canola exports to China into doubt, Canada had already moved aggressively to expand its access to numerous overseas markets, to avoid over-dependence on the American market.
Former United States President Donald Trump’s threats to tear up the old North American Free Trade Agreement caused Canadian export industries to worry about their overreliance on the U.S. market.
The government created a new trade diversification minister, Jim Carr, who was assigned to boost Canadian access to countries around the world, especially in Asia.
Soon after leading a mission to China in November 2018, Canadian diplomatic relations with China fell apart when Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition warrant.
Within months, China had blocked imports from Canada’s two biggest exporters, Richardson and Viterra, and squeezed Canadian pork exports.
Canadian industry and trade officials fanned out across the world to increase Canadian sales elsewhere, but gains haven’t been easy and the U.S. and Chinese markets still dominate Canadian exports.
Innes said the world has become more hostile to trade in recent years, allowing technical issues to grow into market access issues if not resolved early.
The canola industry hopes that pouring new resources into Asian Canadian trade offices could help prevent technical issues from developing into significant concerns, especially in Asia.
“We need to be prepared and ready to fight fires and now is the time to do that, as opposed to when the house is on fire and you realize you don’t have a firehall,” said Innes.
Ng’s office, meanwhile, remains committed to trade diversification.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has only reaffirmed that need for Canada to further diversify its trade, in terms of where we trade, what we trade, how we trade and who trades,” said Han.