Cheers for trade minister's talk on canola, Churchill port at Sask. municipalities conference

International Trade Minister Jim Carr tried to assuage fears about canola trade with China at the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities conference on Thursday.

A day before, Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale was booed and called a traitor at the SARM convention

Minister Jim Carr spoke to Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities delegates in Saskatoon Thursday morning. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

China's refusal to buy Richardson International's canola has many farmers in Saskatchewan nervous, but International Trade Minister Jim Carr tried to assuage those fears Thursday.

Carr spoke to a full conference hall at the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities' annual convention in Saskatoon. Unlike his federal Liberal counterpart Ralph Goodale, who was booed at the conference the day before, Carr stepped on stage to a warm reception.

Early in his speech, he addressed the trade situation with China — undoubtedly one of the biggest concerns for rural municipalities in the province, which represent many of Saskatchewan's farmers.

"The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said it was an  absolutely fine batch. The Chinese think differently. So what we want is the evidence that there's a problem," Carr told reporters after his speech at the SARM convention. He did not take questions from the audience.

China banned imports of canola seed and other products from Winnipeg-based Richardson last week.

The country's foreign ministry said the decision to revoke Richardson's registration to ship canola seeds to China was due to fears of insect infestation, but many in Canada suspect the issue is connected to conflict between the countries over Canada's arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

Both Goodale and Carr spoke at length at the SARM convention about the need for "scientific evidence" in the canola dispute, which they say is lacking from China's claims about Richardson's product.

'Take it 1 day at a time'

While farmers at SARM have been vocal about the fact that they want the canola trade issue resolved quickly, Carr was non-commital about what will happen if China does not produce that scientific evidence.

"Let's take it one day at a time," Carr said.

Delegates listen to a speech on Thursday, the last day of the 2019 Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities annual convention. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

"We know that within the next 60 days, decisions will have to be made."

The Winnipeg MP did bring some well-recieved news to the SARM convention, when he mentioned the federal government's work on increasing rail service to the northern port of Churchill, Man.

Now we have access to this port with a refurbished train track, and a port that's going to be positioned to trade with the world.- MP Jim Carr on the Churchill, Man., port

It's the location of Canada's only deep-water Arctic port. The feds made a $117-million commitment to reopening the rail line and port, after the railway was out of service for more than a year following flooding in 2017.

The railway to the northern Manitoba town, a marine fuel tank farm there and the Port of Churchill were sold by Denver-based Omnitrax to Arctic Gateway Group last year.

Carr said the Arctic Gateway deal will improve the trade prospects for products from northern Saskatchewan.

"Now we have access to this port with a refurbished train track, and a port that's going to be positioned to trade with the world," said Carr.

"Not only is it good for us as Prairie folk but it's good for the country as we expand our trade opportunities worldwide."

Speaking to reporters after the speech, he identified a facet of climate change that he believes might be beneficial for trade — more open water in Canada's north.

"Some say that within a generation or more that the water is going to be open, which means that we will have access through our northern port to trading routes around the world."

Carr said research out of the University of Manitoba has centred on ice and permafrost in Churchill.

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