Manitoba agriculture minster not worried about NAFTA uncertainty, despite slow investment in hog barns
'We're going to be just fine,' Ralph Eichler says
Manitoba needs to open up 40 more hog barns in order to meet demand for pork, but uncertainty surrounding North American free trade could be holding some producers back, according to Manitoba's agriculture minister.
"That is part of the problem [is that] there is that uncertainty," Ralph Eichler told reporters after delivering a speech at the 41st Manitoba Ag Days in Brandon on Tuesday.
He told reporters that despite demand, there are only three new hog barns in the works in the province right now. Over the next five years, he said 40 new barns will be needed just to meet domestic demand, without any new trade.
Pork production is a $1.7 billion industry in Manitoba, according to Eichler.
He made the comments on the opening day for the annual Manitoba Ag Days event, billed as Canada's largest indoor farm show, in the southwestern Manitoba city. More than 50,000 people are expected to pass through the doors of the Keystone Centre and take in the 10 acres of displays.
This year's event comes amid concerns President Donald Trump could pull the United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
"Let's be clear, Trump can tear the NAFTA agreement up, but it still has to go through the Senate, it still has to go through the House of Representatives," he said.
"We have a deal until such time the political will is there to end it once and for all. We're sitting fine."
'They respect Canada'
He said the U.S. secretary of agriculture pledged his full support for continued trade between the two countries at recent meetings in Kansas.
"If NAFTA goes south on us in any way, it won't be because of agriculture," Eichler said.
"[The U.S. Department of] Agriculture has been very clear about their support," he said, pointing to past examples such as trade restrictions due to mad cow disease or BSE, and country of origin labelling for Canadian beef.
"They were there for us during BSE. They were there for us when we had COOL. They're there for us now under trade. They respect Canada."
Eichler said the two countries passed a resolution supporting future trade, which was sent to the prime minister and governments of all Canadian provinces and U.S. states.
"We came out of there unified," he said. "We realize there is some concerns over supply management but none that would be impairment to moving forward with NAFTA. I feel very strongly that we're going to be just fine."
The next round of NAFTA talks — the sixth so far — will be held in Montreal from Jan. 23 to 28.