Canada must send trade mission to China to end canola seed boycott: Eichler

Manitoba’s agriculture minister says it’s time to head to China to solve issues surrounding a ban of Canadian canola seed imports once and for all.

'I think we need to make a trip to China and get this resolved sooner than later'

Ralph Eichler speaks with reporters in Brandon, Man., on Monday afternoon. (Riley Laychuk/CBC )

Manitoba's agriculture minister says it's time to head to China to solve issues surrounding a ban of Canadian canola seed imports once and for all.

"This hiccup, as I want to call it, was certainly uncalled for by the Chinese government," Ralph Eichler told reporters in Brandon on Monday. "I think we need to make a trip to China and get this resolved sooner than later."

Eichler was in the southwestern Manitoba city announcing an expansion of a rebate program offered though the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation for young farmers. However, questions from reporters quickly turned to those on China halting imports of Canadian canola seed.

Chinese authorities revoked the sales licence for a major Canadian canola distributor, Richardson International, earlier this month. Officials at the time said it was related to "dangerous pests" in the seed, an allegation Richardson has strongly denied. 

However, the Canola Council of Canada (CCC) said Friday that Chinese importers are now unwilling to purchase any Canadian canola seed.

Some believe the ban has to do with Canada's arrest of a Chinese technology company executive — a conflict Canadian farmers say they have now been dragged into. 

"There are a lot of circumstances circulating now that make it a more complicated issue than it should be," said Bill Campbell, president of Manitoba's Keystone Agricultural Producers. "It's not good. It's not good at all.

"Most of these hardships will be passed on down to the primary producer," he added. "It will be felt in the price that I receive for my canola. This is huge on the agricultural landscape."

About 40 per cent of Canada's canola seed exports went to China last year, totaling about $2.7 billion.

Eichler suggested Monday that Manitoba partner with Saskatchewan and the federal government to send a trade mission to China. 

"We know they need our canola," Eichler said, adding that Alberta's provincial election may hamper efforts to send a representative from that province. "There's no doubt about that."

"It's the federal government that needs to take the lead on this," he said. "We know that farmers have decisions to make and hopefully we can get them some answers before we hit the panic button."

Will Gerrard grows canola, among other crops, near Strathclair, Man., a community about 70 kilometres northwest of Brandon. He also wants to see Canada send a unified message on the situation to China. 

"I think if we don't get it resolved, it's going to be hard to replace China with other market," he said. "I'm hoping they do get it resolved fairly soon." 

Gerrard said he's still planning to grow canola this year and won't be planting less because of the dispute.

Charles Fossay, president of the Manitoba Canola Growers' Association, told CBC News on Friday that while growers are concerned about the markets, he hasn't heard of any farmers changing their plans to plant the crop.

Canada exports more canola than anyone else, and China is a major customer. (Scott Galley/CBC)

Eichler says it's too early to talk about programs to help farmers deal with falling canola prices as a result of China's ban, and that any such program would need to be led by the federal government.

"We're very confident that things will come around very soon," Eichler said. 

Campbell says a loss of revenue on canola crops wouldn't be covered by crop insurance, which only covers production losses, such as crop lost to a hail storm. 

"As farmers ... we're bearing the brunt of this right now," Campbell said. 

"This needs to have some type of concrete conclusion so that we can have confidence putting our crops in," he said.  "We have people that have committed fertilizer purchases [and] seed purchases [already].

"This changes the dynamics of our production significantly," Campbell added. 

with files from Pete Evans, Holly Caruk and Radio Noon


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