Prospect of U.S.-China trade deal creates access worries for Canadian farmers
OTTAWA — China’s move to stop buying several Canadian agricultural products has punished some farmers, and now industry leaders are worrying about the prospect of a broader threat — an eventual U.S.-China trade deal.
Canadian exports of beef, pork, canola and soybeans have largely been locked out of the massive Chinese market following the December arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. Meng was detained on an extradition request by the United States, a move that angered Beijing and has dealt a severe blow to Canada-China relations.
But a few Canadian crops have had stronger sales to China over the past year. The trade fight between the world’s two largest economies has, for example, helped contribute to a surge in Canadian wheat exports to China since Beijing imposed tariffs on American products.
There are industry fears about what could come next — what will happen to Canadian farm exports if U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping eventually strike a deal?
“If Trump forces China to buy a lot of American agri-food products, we won’t be selling Canadian agri-food products to China,” said Brian Innes, president of the Canadian Agri-food Trade Alliance.
“Canada may benefit in the short term, but we’re going to get whiplash if Trump makes a deal with China.”
Innes, who’s also vice-president of public affairs for the Canola Council of Canada, said Trump has been clear that any trade agreement would feature major agricultural purchases by China from the U.S.
At the moment, there are few signs of progress in U.S.-China negotiations. The trade war has grown increasingly bitter in recent months.
The two sides have hit each other with levies on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of goods. Last week, China announced it would stop buying American farm products in response to Trump’s threat of fresh tariffs on Chinese imports.
On Tuesday, however, the U.S. Trade Representative softened its position by announcing it would remove some Chinese products from a tariff list over “health, safety, national security and other factors.” Robert Lighthizer’s office also decided to delay the application of duties on certain products until Dec. 15, instead of the previous start date of Sept. 1.
Negotiators are expected to meet next month in Washington for another round of talks.
In Canada, the farming industry is watching very closely.
“We have been exporting wheat to China, but what happens when the two presidents come to an agreement?” said Cam Dahl, who heads Cereals Canada, which represents industries like wheat, oats and barley.
“I suspect that that trade stops overnight. Trade is being driven by politics and not the markets — and that’s something that it is of significant risk.”
Between January and June, federal numbers show Canada exported $335 million worth of wheat to China — an increase of more than 60 per cent compared to the same period in 2018.
“But, again, that’s growth that’s politically driven,” Dahl said. “That’s good and we’ll take it — but, still, that level of uncertainty is there … and when does that come to an end?”
Overall, the U.S.-China trade fight, coupled with worries about what could happen next, is creating uncertainty for farmers who sometimes plan their crops 18 months to two years in advance.
Federal governments — both Liberal and Conservative — have tried to help Canada avoid being overly dependent on only a handful of markets by striking a number of new trade deals over the last decade.
But Dahl said while some of the agreements have been beneficial for Canadian farmers, the world’s shift toward more protectionist policies — such as non-tariff barriers — have begun to weaken those gains.
For example, he said Canadian sales of durum wheat to Italy have fallen 60 per cent since Canada signed its trade deal with the European Union because of protectionist measures taken by the Italian government.
Dahl would like the federal government to deploy its scientists to countries that buy a lot of Canadian farming products before issues arise, so they can quickly respond to any frictions or help build capacity in places that lack a robust regulatory system.
Innes said the lift for Canadian agricultural products from Canada’s multilateral trade deals with the European Union and the Pacific Rim have been smaller than anticipated.
Non-tariff barriers still present in certain jurisdictions — in the form of regulations on things like meat processing, pesticides and seed technology — have prevented Canadians exporters from taking full advantage, he said.
Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press
Nature Conservancy of Canada releases action plan to protect Prairie grasslands
Grasslands are shown in a Nature Conservancy of Canada handout photo. The Nature Conservancy of Canada has announced a plan to protect Prairie grasslands, considered one of the most endangered and least protected ecosystems in the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Nature Conservancy of Canada
By Colette Derworiz in Calgary
The Nature Conservancy of Canada has announced a plan to protect iconic Prairie grasslands, considered one of the most endangered and least protected ecosystems in the country.
The plan aims to raise $500 million by 2030 to conserve more than 5,000 square kilometres — about six times the size of Calgary — in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
“What we’re trying to do is accelerate the rate of conservation in the Prairie Provinces, specifically in the grasslands,” Jeremy Hogan, the non-profit organization’s director of prairie grassland conservation, said in an interview.
“They are Canada’s most endangered ecosystem. There’s only about 18 per cent left of the Great Plains Prairie grasslands in Canada and we continue to lose about (600 square kilometres) a year.”
Grasslands, he said, are often converted to fields for growing crops or taken over by expanding cities and towns.
But he calls them an “unsung hero” for the environment.
“They provide a lot of what we call ecosystem services,” he said. “So, they provide a lot of benefit to everyday Canadians’ lives, even if you don’t live or work in the grasslands.”
They store and filter water, preventing both floods and droughts. They improve water quality. They keep soil in place, because of extensive root networks, so there’s less erosion along lakes and rivers.
Hogan said grasslands also are important for reducing the effects of climate change.
“The carbon storage in grasslands is incredible and it’s all stored securely underground,” he said. “So, when you get these kinds of fires like the ones that are happening in Alberta right now, carbon stored in the grasslands isn’t threatened by those fires like carbon stored in forests.”
Across Alberta, wildfires have already scorched more than 10,000 square kilometres of forest this year.
Horgan said grasslands can also be an economic benefit for local communities and are essential to food security.
“A lot of the grasslands that are intact today are working ranches,” he said. “So, the grasslands are operated as cattle operations. As long as the cattle are grazed sustainably, it’s actually a mutually beneficial relationship.
“It requires a little bit of disturbance from grazing animals to maintain range health … and then on the flip side of that is a healthy sustainable grazing operation leads to more nutritious forage for cattle. So, it’s actually a win-win for ranchers and the environment.”
Duane Thompson, chairman of the environment committee with the Canadian Cattle Association, said in a statement that farmers and ranchers are proud of their role in managing and protecting the at-risk ecosystems. They are often involved in nature conservancy projects to protect grasslands.
Outside of Waterton Lakes National Park in southern Alberta, a 16.5 square kilometre property known as The Yarrow has been conserved after a $6.9-million fundraising campaign. It features grasslands, wetlands, creeks, mixed forests and includes 27 wildlife species.
The organization now wants to protect grasslands in the Cypress Uplands Natural Area in southwestern Saskatchewan. They rise more than 600 metres, the highest elevation east of the Canadian Rockies, and are home to pronghorn, deer, elk and cougars. The area also has the highest diversity of birds, including burrowing owl, common nighthawk and ferruginous hawk, in that province.
East of Brandon, the nature conservancy has also secured its largest-ever conservation agreement in Manitoba. The 21 Farms project, which is 4.5 square kilometres, boasts mixed-grass prairie, as well as sandhill prairie and sandhill forest, and is home to the Sprague’s pipit and a large Sharp-tail grouse lek.
“That’s one of the cool points about the Prairie grasslands,” said Hogan. “It’s not just this one block of grass. It’s very, very diverse west to east and changes with different topography and soil type.”
The action plan, he said, hopes to raise money to continue protecting those types of areas across all three provinces before they disappear.
“It’s not too late to act, but we’re getting there,” said Hogan. “The fact that there is only 18 per cent left is a very real and dangerous thing to grasslands. Once you reach a certain point, there’s no going back.
“What is left is worth protecting and it’s worth protecting urgently.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 5, 2023.
Canada saw decline in fresh fruit, vegetable availability in 2022: StatCan
Statistics Canada says fewer fresh fruits and vegetables were available to Canadians in 2022, due to factors such as ongoing supply chain issues, labour shortages and price increases. Assorted fruit is shown at a market in Montreal on Thursday, June 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Statistics Canada says fewer fresh fruits and vegetables were available to Canadians in 2022, due to factors such as ongoing supply chain issues, labour shortages and price increases.
StatCan says the amount of available fresh fruit declined by more than five per cent in 2022 from the previous year, to 72.9 kilograms per person.
Even though there was a 12.7 per cent increase in domestic fruit production, it was not enough to keep up with an increase in exports and a decrease in imports, the agency says in a report released today.
The availability of fresh vegetables — excluding potatoes — was 64.7 kilograms per person in 2022, a decrease of nearly six per cent from 2021.
Just like with fruits, Canada’s vegetable production increases in 2022 were not enough to keep up with a rise in exports and a drop in imports, StatCan says.
The agency says some Canadian food industry sectors experienced record production in 2022, but also exported more food internationally than the previous year.
It says the entire industry was affected by pandemic-related supply chain issues, such as shipping delays and shortages of labour and products.
StatCan also cites price increases as one of the factors. Extreme weather, the war in Ukraine and energy costs severely impacted global food prices last year.
Food inflation was stubbornly high in Canada in 2022, outpacing overall inflation. Grocery prices were up 9.8 per cent in 2022 compared with 2021, the fastest pace since 1981.
StatCan’s latest report says the amount of milk available to Canadians also decreased by nearly four per cent in 2022, compared to the previous year.
StatCan says that was mainly caused by a drop in production of one per cent milk and two per cent milk.
In contrast, red meat availability increased by 4.3 per cent in 2022, led by beef as cattle slaughter increased from the previous year. The amount of poultry available to Canadians increased by 1.5 per cent.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2023.
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