Those of us in agriculture understand the importance of the industry in terms of economic contribution to Canada’s GDP but oftentimes it seems that clout is overshadowed by other equally key industries. That’s why I was pleased to see agriculture featured prominently in the recent Advisory Council on Economic Growth report. The report, Unleashing the Growth Potential of Key Sectors, contains recommendations to promote growth in all areas of the Canadian economy by identifying and then addressing major obstacles and barriers preventing some sectors from realizing their full potential.
In the report, Agriculture and Food is recognized as one of eight sectors in Canada deemed as potential candidates for a strategic approach whereby government and the private sector work together to create the policy actions and infrastructure needed to remove identified barriers and obstacles and help unlock sector potential. Energy and renewables; mining and metals; healthcare and life sciences; advanced manufacturing; financial services; tourism and education were also on the list. However, the report selected the agriculture sector as an example of what this targeted approach of the government in concert with the private sector could look like, and suggested a pilot could get underway this year.
The advisory council said it will talk with sectors about identifying major obstacles to growth. The CCA intends to follow up with them in that regard. Much of the messaging in the report is consistent with CCA’s messaging and the input CCA delivered to the advisory council, particularly in terms of increasing exports, meeting labour needs, research, the Canadian Beef Advantage and our focus on sustainable beef production. Moreover, the report’s vision echoes the industry’s National Beef Strategy, and the recommendations are similar to the Agri-Food Competitiveness Council the CCA participated in during the early ’90s, a process which did develop some useful regulations and policy recommendations.
The report comes just as Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) representatives returned from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) annual convention, where the importance of sound trade policy to unfettered access was a key topic. In addition to the NCBA convention schedule of events, CCA participated in several additional meetings, including a session with the beef industry leadership from the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
At the trilateral meeting NCBA, CCA and Mexico’s Nacional de Organizaciones Ganaderas (CNOG) presidents reaffirmed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is beneficial for all beef producers, reflecting the integrated nature of the North American beef industry. I also expressed the importance of continuing to work towards simplifying trade between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
The trilateral leaders’ discussion focused on U.S. President Donald Trump’s stated desire to renegotiate NAFTA and his withdrawing the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). These actions reflect the new reality that the U.S. administration will pursue bilateral trade agreements in place of broader regional or multi-lateral initiatives.
Discussion briefly focused on the proposed 20 per cent tax on Mexican imports to the U.S. and the work NCBA is doing to educate the administration on how this would cripple the U.S. economy and cause massive U.S. job losses. CCA noted that it will be a major focus for Canada in the months ahead to use every opportunity to draw attention in the U.S. to the importance of Canada-U.S. trade and how the Canadian government has recently shuffled its cabinet with a view to doing just that. With the U.S. withdrawing from the TPP, the CCA has encouraged the Government of Canada to pursue alternate plans, including completion of a Canada-Japan bilateral agreement or seek a revision to the participation formula necessary to bring TPP into force.
The Trump administration has also provided a welcome opportunity in the form of the so-called “Two for One” executive order on regulatory policy whereby U.S. government departments must eliminate two existing regulations for every new rule they create. The announcement of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue is also very welcome given his experience in the agriculture sector and experience with the benefits of trade. The intention of the Trump administration to appoint an undersecretary for trade at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (a position that Congress created years ago, which has previously been left unfilled) should be helpful as well.
The CCA team in Nashville also met with representatives from Cargill and Tyson and had good, productive meetings to better understand how we can co-operate with these important buyers of Canadian cattle on our common priorities for the year ahead.
The CCA will work closely with Canadian government officials and the embassy in Washington and consulates across the U.S. to ensure that the interests of Canadian beef producers are well represented as the Trump administration moves forward.
Finally, I would like to thank Canada’s beef producers for continuing to step up to the plate in 2016 regarding bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) surveillance. A total of 27,346 samples were submitted for testing in 2016, all of which tested negative. Although this annual total once again fell short of Canada’s target number of 30,000 annual samples (a target established in 2003), this is a welcome result given Canada’s shrinking herd and other challenges to meeting the annual target. Maintaining a credible level of BSE surveillance to demonstrate that Canada’s control measures are effective and are working towards eradicating the disease is important.