Ritz touts Peruvian, Colombian FTA talks

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says the federal government is vigourously pursuing the passage and implementation of trade agreements with the Latin American countries Peru and Colombia.

Ritz is leading a Canadian delegation to both countries to “…advance quick implementation of these important free trade agreements.” The agreements were inked in the fall of 2008, but have yet to be ratified and implemented.

“Right now our competitors from places such as the United States and Argentina are negotiating or already have tariff-free access to markets in Colombia and Peru,” Ritz said Friday. “Canadian farm families are counting on all parties to pass legislation to implement these vital free trade agreements as quickly as possible. Our government is committed to getting these deals in place a quickly as possible.”

Both countries are vital markets for Canadian livestock, grain and pulse crop producers. Annual Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) sales to both countries are worth about $230 million, and imports to both countries face tariffs that average about 15 per cent historically. Pulse exports are worth about $100 million annually and without a free trade agreement Canadian producers will be at roughly a 15 per cent disadvantage.

Farm groups were quick to endorse the move. The Canadian Wheat Board called the agreements “…crucial to maintain strong sales of western Canadian wheat and barley to these important markets.”

Western Canadian farmers “cannot afford to be left at a competitive disadvantage to the Americans,” White said Friday from Lima, where he was participating in the delegation. “We need these trade deals to be implemented.”

Gordon Bacon, CEO of Pulse Canada, encouraged Canada’s Parliament to ratify the agreements to provide for quick implementation. The agreements “will help keep Canadian pulses competitive in these markets and open new opportunities for us,” said Bacon, who was also travelling with the delegation.

Bacon also noted pulse importers in Peru and Colombia have shown tremendous support for the Canadian free trade agreements.

The Grain Growers of Canada likewise expressed its support for the efforts to move the agreements along.

With over 90 per cent of Canadian farmers dependent on an export market for their crops, freer trade is essential to their livelihoods,” said Doug Robertson, president of the organization. “Expansion of our markets abroad will ensure our farmers have opportunities to increase both our sales and our profitability.”

Robertson also noted that any move to liberalize trade during the current economic downturn was exciting, as too many countries were instead pondering a disastrous turn toward protectionism.

Ritz also said the Colombian government had agreed to a path that would enable the market to be completely reopened to Canadian beef.

“I am confident that we can meet and exceed Columbia’s high quality and safety standards to reopen that market to our beef and livestock this summer,” Ritz said.

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