Sask., Alberta trade ministers travel to Asia with federal counterpart amid Chinese canola spat
Provincial trade ministers and federal Trade Minister Jim Carr are in Japan and South Korea this week
Amid a trade dispute with China involving Canadian canola, Saskatchewan's trade minister is in Asia this week in an effort to strengthen the province's exports in the region.
Jeremy Harrison is accompanying federal Minister of International Trade Diversification Jim Carr and Alberta Trade Minister Tanya Fir on a week-long trip to Japan and South Korea.
Japan is Saskatchewan's third-largest export market, with nearly all exports being agri-food products — including canola seed, non-durum wheat, durum and barley.
In 2018, Saskatchewan's exports to Japan were valued at $1.13 billion, the province says.
"With Asian markets continuing to import more food every year, it is crucial we promote the safe, reliable and high-quality agri-food products Saskatchewan has to offer," Harrison said in a statement Tuesday.
Saskatchewan exports to South Korea were valued at more than $117 million in 2018, the province said. Those exports include canola oil, wheat, malt and oats.
"Japan and South Korea remain two of Saskatchewan's most important and valued customers and it is important we strengthen those relationships," Harrison said.
The ministers are being accompanied by agriculture producer groups.
'Alternative markets' for canola: Carr
In May, Harrison and Premier Scott Moe said the federal government had invited them on a potential trip to Asia.
In recent months, China has sent non-compliance notifications to Richardson International Ltd. and Viterra Inc., two major Canadian exporters of canola seed.
China said customs inspectors said they found "dangerous pests" in shipments from Canada. Canadian officials have refuted that claim.
China represents 40 per cent of Canada's canola seed export market.
"Our trade mission to Japan and South Korea is part of our ongoing effort to sell high-quality Canadian canola and other agricultural products to alternative markets," a spokesperson for Carr said on Tuesday.
Japan and South Korea represent Canada's fourth- and sixth-largest export markets, according to the federal government.
"We are focused on opening doors, providing on-the-ground support so that companies can compete and succeed on the international playing field, and creating business-to-business connections for Canadian producers, companies and provinces looking to expand into these thriving Asian markets," said Carr.
Sask. wants feds to speed up cash advances
Back in March, the Saskatchewan government lobbied Ottawa to make changes to the Advance Payments Program — a federal program that provides agricultural producers with access to low-interest cash advances.
Some 43,000 canola producers across Canada currently face market challenges and dropping prices after China, their largest seed buyer, stopped buying the seed from Canada.
The federal government went ahead with the changes on May 1. The maximum interest-free loan available for canola producers increased to $500,000 from $100,000.
On May 24, Saskatchewan Minister of Agriculture David Marit said the implementation of the payments was not happening fast enough.
"The response that we got back is that it's going to be delayed even more. Seeding is well in full swing. We're well over 70 per cent of the crop in the ground and farmers have bills to pay," Marit said.
The canola blockade was preceded by events unrelated to international agri-food trade.
A diplomatic dispute between China and Canada was sparked by the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver last year, at the request of American authorities.
Two Canadian men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, were detained in China in December after being accused of spying. The two were picked up separately, shortly after Meng was arrested. They were formally arrested in May.
With files from Pete Evans