USMCA agree­ment goes against Canada’s grain

Prairie Post (West Edition) - - Opinion - BY CATHY HOLTSLANDER DI­REC­TOR OF RE­SEARCH AND POL­ICY, NA­TIONAL FARM­ERS UNION

The United States-Mex­ico-Canada Agree­ment (USMCA), pro­posed to re­place NAFTA, cov­ers grain in just four para­graphs of the Agri­cul­ture Chap­ter, but the sec­tion has se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions for Cana­dian farm­ers.

It would give US-grown wheat a free ride on Canada’s in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion and ul­ti­mately threaten the qual­ity con­trol sys­tem that al­lows prairie farm­ers to ob­tain pre­mium prices for our wheat.

USMCA gives Amer­i­can in­ter­ests a voice in con­sul­ta­tions about our seed reg­u­la­tory sys­tem, en­croach­ing upon our seed sovereignty. The USMCA’s grain mea­sures pri­mar­ily con­cern the bulk wheat ex­ports of Canada and the USA, as Mex­ico is not a sig­nif­i­cant wheat ex­porter, and Cana­dian millers are al­ready able to freely im­port US wheat for food pro­cess­ing.

The USMCA grain sec­tion re­quires Canada to give im­ported US wheat the same grade as our own, and would pre­vent Canada from iden­ti­fy­ing coun­try of ori­gin for US wheat on our grade cer­tifi­cates.

To im­ple­ment these mea­sures, we would have to amend the Canada Grain Act, which cur­rently says im­ported wheat must be iden­ti­fied as “for­eign,” kept seg­re­gated from Cana­dian wheat, and graded as “sam­ple” if de­liv­ered into our bulk han­dling sys­tem des­tined for ex­port. The Canada Grain Act re­quire­ments are the foun­da­tion of Canada’s rep­u­ta­tion for qual­ity as­sured grain.

Canada’s class and grad­ing sys­tem is highly val­ued by our in­ter­na­tional cus­tomers be­cause our sys­tem as­sures cus­tomers they will get known and con­sis­tent qual­ity in our ship­ments. They pay higher prices be­cause of our qual­ity as­sur­ance stan­dards. Cana­dian farm­ers need higher prices to off­set our trans­porta­tion costs since our grain grow­ing area is so far from port com­pared with other grain-ex­port­ing coun­tries. Grain farm­ing is vi­able on the prairies due to the higher prices we are able to com­mand with our qual­ity stan­dard.

Canada’s grain grad­ing sys­tem is the world’s most so­phis­ti­cated and rig­or­ous. It is au­tho­rized by the Canada Grain Act and im­ple­mented by the Cana­dian Grain Com­mis­sion (CGC). Our farm­ers take their grain to a coun­try el­e­va­tor where it is priced ac­cord­ing to grade (qual­ity) and class (type). Each reg­is­tered va­ri­ety of wheat is as­signed a class based on its end-use prop­er­ties (good for bread vs. pasta vs. crack­ers, etc.). There are stan­dards for grad­ing ev­ery load of wheat (Grades 1, 2, 3, Feed and Sam­ple) based on qual­ity fac­tors. Once the el­e­va­tor pur­chases the grain, it goes into a bulk hop­per at the grain el­e­va­tor with other loads of wheat of the same class and grade. Later it goes into a rail car that takes it to port, and it is loaded onto a ship for ex­port.

The USMCA breaks this sys­tem. It says our el­e­va­tors have to ac­cept US-grown grain, give a grade as if it was Cana­dian-grown, and al­low it to be mixed with Cana­dian grain. Mixed ship­ments of US-grown and Cana­dian wheat sold as if they were 100% Cana­dian will un­der­mine our Cana­dian brand and its qual­ity pre­mium. The CGC is re­spon­si­ble for up­hold­ing our qual­ity stan­dards, but would have no abil­ity to en­force com­pli­ance if Amer­i­can grow­ers vi­o­lated our rules, as it has no au­thor­ity in the USA. Qual­ity is­sues that could re­sult from US-grown grain in­clude fraud­u­lent sales of un­reg­is­tered va­ri­eties, unau­tho­rized pes­ti­cide residues and in­ci­dents of ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied wheat con­tam­i­na­tion.

The USMCA’s third para­graph on grain is a fur­ther at­tack on our grad­ing sys­tem. It would force Canada to dis­cuss with the USA “is­sues re­lated to the op­er­a­tion of a do­mes­tic grain grad­ing or grain class sys­tem, in­clud­ing is­sues re­lated to the seed reg­u­la­tory sys­tem as­so­ci­ated with the op­er­a­tion of any such sys­tem.” This gives Amer­i­cans a front row seat in our con­sul­ta­tion process. Un­der the ban­ner of “Seed Syn­ergy” multi­na­tional seed and chem­i­cal cor­po­ra­tions are ag­gres­sively lob­by­ing for rad­i­cal changes to our seed sys­tem. They aim to get rid of ex­ist­ing pub­lic-in­ter­est­based qual­ity con­trol mea­sures and set up an “in­dus­try led, govern­ment en­abled” sys­tem that would max­i­mize the com­pa­nies’ abil­ity to con­trol ac­cess to seed and in­crease seed prices and in­put costs for farm­ers. The Cana­dian Food In­spec­tion Agency has held nu­mer­ous con­sul­ta­tions on our seed reg­u­la­tions.

For more than two decades, re­sults have al­ways sup­ported up­hold­ing our qual­ity con­trol sys­tem and reg­u­lat­ing in the pub­lic in­ter­est. The USMCA un­der­mines our seed sovereignty by giv­ing the USA un­due in­flu­ence over Canada’s de­ci­sions.

Along with dairy pro­duc­ers, Canada's grain farm­ers are be­ing asked to shoul­der the bur­den of failed trade ne­go­ti­a­tions. We are giv­ing away, to a for­eign com­peti­tor, the ca­pa­bil­ity to set the pa­ram­e­ters of our grain trade. Given the fed­eral govern­ment's hope that agri­cul­ture will lead the way in in­creas­ing Canada's ex­port trade, it is in­com­pre­hen­si­ble that they are plan­ning to hand the keys over to the United States. The sec­tion on grain in the USMCA can­not be al­lowed to re­main.

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