Minister of Agriculture heading off to Colorado

The United States is the largest market for Saskatchewan wheat. Submitted.

Trade issues loom large

Saskatchewan’s Minister of Agriculture is heading south.

Minister Lyle Stewart will be travelling to Denver, Colo., to meet with counterparts from the United States and Mexico for the Tri National Agriculture Accord talks. The talks will bring together representatives from the three North American countries, along with representatives from their various provinces and states. Stewart will be attending the meetings from Oct. 17 to 19.

In a media release sent out Wednesday, the government said agricultural exports to the U.S. account for 25 per cent of all food exports from Saskatchewan, totaling $3.5 billion annually. Agricultural exports to Mexico currently total $623 million per year, making Mexico Saskatchewan’s fifth largest market for farm exports. Stewart said gatherings like this are especially important now, given that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is being re-negotiated at the urging of U.S. President Donald Trump. Stewart said the meetings have a very specific focus.

“It’s always about trade,” he said.

Stewart stressed the importance of Saskatchewan being as involved as possible to ensure that any new potential deal takes care of the province’s interests. He said a major focus of these meetings is to make sure that agricultural markets are preserved as they are currently.

“We were perfectly satisfied with the existing NAFTA agreement,” he said.

Stewart credits NAFTA with helping Canada in its dispute with the United States surrounding country of origin labelling (COL).

“We eventually won that dispute and it was because NAFTA was in place, with a specific dispute resolution mechanism,” he said.

However, Stewart did concede that there were some issues with the agreement, specifically in regards to how American wheat is treated in Canada. According to the minister, the dispute revolves around the grading system that Canada uses for wheat.

“When a U.S. farmer exports their wheat into Canada since it doesn’t fall into our grading system … so it automatically receives the lowest possible grade,” he said.

Stewart said the provincial government has pressed for a solution for this issue for some time.

“We’ve actually asked the federal government and the Canadian Grain Commission to find a way to treat U.S. wheat better,” he said.

The minister said it is critical the issue with American wheat be dealt with, as the U.S. is the largest market for Saskatchewan wheat and has some of the lowest costs of transportation. He added that not resolving this issue could potentially mean real issues in regards to access to the American market going forward. On the issue of potentially setting up a universal grading system for wheat, Stewart said he didn’t think the province was prepared to discuss such as system.

“That is something that should be on the table for future discussions,” he said.

Along with hoping to build on the relationship with the United States, Stewart said the province is also looking to Mexico.

“We’d like to sell more to Mexico,” he said.

The minister said there was nothing being looked at specifically with regards to more potential trade with Mexico, as Mexico – like Canada – is mostly focused on trying to maintain its current trade position. He added that the potential is there to have preliminary talks about expanding the trading relationship, but that right now both countries have a bigger focus.

“The NAFTA re-negotiation at the behest of the President of the United States has to some extent (sucked) the oxygen out of the room when it comes to new issues of trade,” he said.