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OPINION-EDITORIAL

Trade and innovation top agriculture ministers' agenda

 

By Don McRae

Minister of Agriculture

July 15, 2011

 

VICTORIA - I have just concluded my first annual conference of Canadian agriculture ministers where we discussed the future of agriculture in B.C. and across Canada. As Canada’s Pacific Gateway, and as a province with a very diverse agricultural sector, British Columbia has a unique viewpoint in countrywide discussions and I was happy to represent our province and bring the voice of West Coast farmers to the table.

 

I spoke directly with federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz about our Agri-Recovery application to support B.C. farmers and ranchers adversely affected by bad weather. As a result, Minister Ritz confirmed a total of $5 million of federal/provincial funding would soon be available to help keep local food on the tables of B.C. families. We announced this funding upon my return, in Delta on Tuesday, July 12, 2011.

 

The sustainability of Canadian farms through market development and access to trade were high on the agenda and ministers agreed strategic choices are critical. Market access for beef, cherries and blueberries in China, and various non-tariff barriers to seafood in the European Union, are B.C.’s top priorities.

 

Our trade agenda has been very progressive. As a result of our recent trade mission to Asia, as part of the New West Partnership with Alberta and Saskatchewan, China is close to completing all the steps needed to open the doors for export of B.C. beef and cherries.

 

Developing domestic markets and responding to consumer demands are also critical to the future success of the sector and the economy. That is why B.C. continues to push at the national level for further reductions in inter-provincial trade barriers to encourage the development of our agriculture and agri-food industries. Subsequently, I asked all ministers to review their positions on the inter-provincial trade of wine.

 

Ministers agreed that innovation requires increased, longer-term and more flexible funding that can help implement and grow new opportunities and ideas. This would include increased access to investment and market development programs and reduced administrative burdens. B.C.’s goal is to assist those who are already embracing innovation, to capitalize on the emerging green economy, the rapidly changing global economy and increasing consumer demands.

 

As we move into the final years of the federal-provincial funding agreement, Growing Forward, a new Growing Forward 2 (GF2) agreement is taking shape. The current agreement brings almost $553 million of funding to B.C., in a 60/40 federal provincial sharing ratio. Discussions focussed on the need to build an agreement that recognizes regional differences and allows flexibility to capitalize on the diversity and strengths of each province’s farming sector and for increased support toward new market development.

 

B.C. had one of the highest stakeholder participation rates at provincial GF2 engagement sessions last month, and I passed on their consensus opinion that informed consultation with entire value chains, from producer to consumer, is essential to achieve a strong and effective GF2 agreement. I believe it is important to note that a strong farming sector finds business success in the marketplace through innovation and leveraging competitive advantages, while government assists with key infrastructure, research and development.  

 

Ministers also agreed we need to support greater strategic investment to help farmers be more competitive and profitable while ensuring a strong foundation through income support and disaster relief. We will explore a phased transition that gives farmers an opportunity to shift business models and allows time for industry-driven risk management tools and non-business risk management (BRM) initiatives to adapt as well.

 

We reviewed the status of pilot projects across Canada designed to improve inter-provincial trade in meat by reducing the costs and burden of gaining federal registration. B.C.‘s position is that any new or modified standard for those interested in inter-provincial trade should be voluntary, allowing plants to respond to market signals and opportunities where it makes business sense.

 

Since B.C. is in the process of implementing its own provincial meat inspection regulations, I stressed the transition to a new federal standard should not create any additional challenges to processors, producers or their communities. The pilot project streamlines achieving federal registration, thereby opening new domestic markets. While ministers agreed we need to open borders to support our unregulated commodities, we were also firm in our commitment to maintaining our supply management sectors.

 

Here in British Columbia we enjoy an outstanding competitive advantage in terms of the diversity of our food commodities and our commitment to food safety, traceability and environmental stewardship. We will continue to work together, with our federal and provincial partners to build a strong, sustainable agriculture sector that families in B.C and across Canada can depend on.

 

Contact:

 

Niki Pandachuk

Ministry of Agriculture

250 387-1693

 

 

 

Connect with the Province of B.C. at: www.gov.bc.ca/connect