Manitoba ag minister 'not real pleased with where we're at' as canola dispute with China drags on

As producers prepare to begin spring seeding, Manitoba’s agriculture minister wants to see more focus on repairing trade with China in the midst of a dispute over canola seed that has now spanned almost two months.

China has banned imports from 2 Canadian companies

Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler believes the focus for a working group on the China-Canada canola issue should be on re-establishing trade. (Shutterstock)

As producers prepare to begin spring seeding, Manitoba's agriculture minister wants to see more focus on repairing trade with China in the midst of a dispute over canola seed that has now spanned almost two months.

But Statistics Canada says the damage may already be done for this season, with Manitoba farmers planning to plant less canola this year.

Ralph Eichler's comments come as a working group of federal and provincial officials, as well as industry representatives, met earlier this month to discuss China's ban on canola seed imports from two Canadian companies. 

"I'm not real pleased with where we're at right now," the provincial agriculture minister told reporters in Brandon, Man., on Friday.

"They're talking about a compensation program. If it's needed, I'm happy to have that conversation.

"[But] the focus needs to be on re-establishing the trade with China," Eichler added. "We don't want to take our eyes off that ball. We want to focus on trade with China. That's what we should be talking about." 

Eichler spoke to reporters in Brandon, Man., on Friday. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

In March, China banned imports of canola seed from Winnipeg-based Richardson International, citing concerns surrounding pests. Seed from Viterra was subsequently banned as well.

The Canola Council of Canada said in March that Chinese importers were unwilling to purchase any Canadian canola seed.

Eichler said the pest claims still don't add up. 

"Our canola is safe. It's pest-free, it's disease-free," said Eichler.

"We've done everything that we can do and we just have to convince [China] to listen to us. We'd be happy to see their data."

It's been speculated the ban may be retaliation for Canada's arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a Chinese tech executive facing extradition to the United States. 

Group meeting weekly 

Jim Everson, president of the Canola Council of Canada, said the committee is meeting weekly to discuss the situation.

"I think really the ... immediate issue is around cash flow for producers," he said.  "As they go to put in a new crop, cash may be a bit of a challenge there. It's looking at the temporary short-term supports that may be necessary."

Everson said the idea of a delegation going to China is still on the table.

"We're hoping China agrees to that as soon as possible," he said. 

Canada is the top producer and exporter of canola in the world, according to the council, which also says the crop accounts for $11 billion of Canada's yearly exports.

Projected canola acres down  

The dispute could be behind a projected drop in the number of acres seeded as canola on the prairies in 2019, according to Statistics Canada.

The agency released its seeding intentions report this week, which showed farmers expect to plant 21.3 million acres in 2019 — about 6.6 per cent less than in 2018.

Manitoba producers are expected to seed 3.3 million acres of canola in 2019, down from 3.4 million acres in 2018, Statistics Canada said.

"Record high year-end stocks for the 2018 calendar year, coupled with concerns regarding limited access to China's canola market, possibly affected anticipated seeding area," the agency said.

"These factors have contributed to lower than average prices, which may have some farmers considering seeding fewer acres of canola or other crops.

"However, resolution of trade concerns or increased canola prices could alter final seeding decisions," said a report on the Statistics Canada website. 

'Give us a chance' 

The Canola Council said in an April 17 news release that the federal government has called for in-depth technical meetings and face-to-face meetings with Chinese officials to discuss the situation. 

A spokesperson for federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau told CBC News via email on Friday that the department is continuing discussions with the working group and farmers, but doesn't have an update on the delegation.

Eichler still thinks the situation with China can be resolved — if there's communication with Canada's agriculture industry.

"If there's something that's not meeting [China's] expectations, we will fix it," Eichler said. "We are committed to their trade, we are committed to them for our good product, for our safe product, and we will deliver it.

"Just give us a chance to be able to do that."


Riley Laychuk is CBC's reporter based in Brandon, covering rural Manitoba. Share your story ideas, tips and feedback:


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