Prairie farmers want Canada's trade dispute with India 'straightened out'

Western producers are pressuring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to convince the Indian government to lift tariffs on Canadian lentil, chickpea and pea imports to that country.

Canadian pulse shipments to India face duties between 30 to 50 per cent

The Canadian export of chickpeas, lentils and peas to India generated over $1.1 billion dollars in 2016. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Bill Aulie is trying to keep busy on his farm in Rouleau, Sask., by training horses and bringing equipment in from the cold to warm up in his shop. 

As spring draws near, Aulie is thinking ahead to the growing season.

"It just puts a scare," Aulie said. "There's uncertainty."

One third of Aulie's crops are lentils. India has slapped tariffs on pulse imports and he could lose a profit this year if the trade dispute isn't resolved.

Canadian producers are currently facing duties of 33 per cent on lentils, 44 per cent on chickpeas and 50 per cent on peas in India, according to Pulse Canada. 

"It just sends a huge ripple effect through the whole industry," Aulie said "If India is doing this, who's going to do what next?"

$1.1 billion industry

Saskatchewan is a world leader in pulse production and India is its biggest customer. The Canadian export of chickpeas, lentils and peas to India generated over $1.1 billion dollars in 2016.
Saskatchewan farmer Bill Aulie predicts he could lose profit from his lentil crops this year if Canada's trade dispute with India over pulse import tariffs isn't resolved. (Mike Zartler/CBC)
Farmers are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for help to make sure that business continues. 

"Consider the importance of agriculture in Canada," Aulie said.

"Work hard with our Indian partners over there and see if we can't get this thing straightened out."

Trudeau raised the issue twice on his official visit to India earlier this week. So far, the country has not lifted levies on Canadian pulse imports. 

"This is something very significant and very concerning," said Francois-Phillippe Champagne, federal Minister of International Trade. 

"This is top on our agenda for all of us. We are working diligently."

'Need to look at a science-based solution'

Champagne has been meeting with Indian officials to resolve the issue.

He said he is also trying to address a recently imposed requirement to have pulse shipments sprayed with a colourless gas called methyl bromide. The intent behind the rule is to protect India's crops from pests, according to Pulse Canada.
The federal Minister of Trade François-Philippe Champagne is having discussions with the Indian government about restrictions on Canadian pulse exports. (Trent Peppler/CBC)
The Canadian government has been trying to explain that the Prairies don't have any pests of concern to India that would warrant any type of fumigation.

"We need to look at science-based solution," Champagne said. 

"We're quite happy to contribute to food security in India, but we need stability and predictability."

If Aulie swaps seeds this year, he said he will have to find half a million dollars worth of input to go in the ground. He said he still plans to grow lentils in the hopes that confidence returns,

"When all of a sudden the market's not there, we got to go searching for seed for another product," Aulie said.

"It's not easy to find because there's going to be a lot of farmers in the same boat."

About the Author

Olivia Stefanovich

Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a national reporter for CBC Saskatchewan on secondment from CBC Sudbury. She covers news from across the province for radio, TV and online. Connect with her on Twitter @CBCOlivia. Send story ideas to olivia.stefanovich@cbc.ca.