Federal government needs to address agri-food issues

The agri-food sector is important to Canada’s economic prosperity, writes Ian McLean

The agricultural sector is one of the largest employers and sources of economic growth in Waterloo Region. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce released two reports related to the national agri-food industry. With major changes in global markets and advances in Canadian products and technology during the past decade, this a domestic sector with huge international growth potential.

The agri-food sector is important to Canada’s economic prosperity. Canada is the fifth largest agricultural commodity exporter and 11th largest exporter of manufactured food products in the world. However, given our potential these numbers are a floor and not a ceiling.

The first report, “Cultivating Competitiveness: Turning Agri-Food Regulatory Reform Promises into Action,” highlights the need for the federal government to act urgently to reduce regulatory burdens on Canada’s agri-food businesses.

There have been dozens of studies and reports spanning more than a decade that all arrive at similar conclusions — complex and inconsistent regulations are limiting our agricultural sector’s ability to innovate and reach new markets. Measures proposed to address these barriers include new legislation to make regulatory efficiency and economic growth a permanent part of regulators’ mandates, making the regulatory review of the agri-food sector a permanent model for regulatory modernization, and conducting a cost-benefit analysis of all new regulatory proposals.

The second report, “CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) Issue in Focus, Opening Opportunities for the Canadian Crop Sector,” sheds light on how the European Union (EU) still is not fully open to Canadian crop exports.

It is clear many products to the EU are not reaching their full potential because of a number of outstanding protectionist practices. Canada’s trade numbers show an alarming disparity in CETA benefits between our crop sector and general merchandise trade. CETA, implemented in 2017, has been a boon to many Canadian businesses, with exports of merchandise goods increasing by seven per cent in 2018. However, Canadian crops have experience mixed results due to non-tariff barriers such as country of origin labelling and food safety rules that are not based in science.

Fortunately, the CETA agreement included the creation of institutional structures that force both the Government of Canada and European Commission to the table to discuss issues. The answer to the crop sector’s troubles lies in making better use of CETA’s regulatory co-operation committees to deliver ambitious outcomes that will resolve these issues. Our biggest challenge is whether our government and the European Commission will be ambitious enough to work toward resolution.

With a federal election approaching, the government has a narrow window to show meaningful progress on this key driver of Canadian jobs. Systemic changes to the agri-food sector are required to meet the national export goal of $85 billion by 2025 and maintain momentum in this key economic driver. It’s important for Canada and it’s important for Waterloo Region.

This opinion piece was written by Ian McLean for the Kitchener Post. View the original posting here.