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Trans-Pacific Partnership could rejuvenate Canadian sugar beet industry, grower says

Canada’s sugar beet industry is heralding the newly-signed Trans-Pacific Partnership as a chance for the country to retake control of its sugar supply.
Mark Lumley's sugar beet harvester is shown in his sugar beet fields. The newly-signed Trans-Pacific Partnership will be a boon for the sugar beet industry, he said. (Submitted)

Canada's sugar beet industry is heralding the newly-signed Trans-Pacific Partnership as a chance for the country to retake control of its sugar supply.

"It's a big win for sugar beets, it's a big win for agriculture as a whole," Mark Lumley, the chair of the Ontario Sugar Beet Growers' Association, told CBC News in an interview.

Lumley is a sugar beet farmer in Lambton County, near Sarnia, Ont.

He acted as an advisor to Canadian negotiators as the terms of the TPP were hammered out in Atlanta last week and helped convince negotiators to get Canadian-grown sugar beets — but not Canadian-produced sugar — privileged access to markets in the United States.

Mark Lumley (right) and International Trade Minister Ed Fast at Trans-Pacific Partnership talks in Atlanta. (Submitted)

This is important because Canadian sugar producers have been using imported cane sugar instead of locally-grown sugar beets since the sugar market was opened up in 1967.  

"All the [refined] sugar produced in Canada comes from other countries. Imported cane sugar isn't agricultural," Lumley said. "Taking Brazilian sugar into Toronto and putting a Canadian flag on it doesn't make it Canadian."  

"We tried to differentiate that to help the negotiators understand what the Canadian agricultural interest is against what is an industrial use. But it's not our sugar, it's not our process and doesn't really belong in the [TPP] negotiations," he said. 

Since there aren't many Canadian refineries capable of processing sugar beets, Ontario producers often have to send their product to Michigan where it's refined and sold. Current rules say that this is American sugar and cannot be brought back into Canada. 

Sugar beet industry 'on the way'

New TPP rules will make this a moot point, Lumley said. This shift would make it possible for the sugar beet industry to expand.

"We're on the way. It's basically my personal mission to get our Canadian sugar beet industry healthy once again after a 50-year absence," he said.

Ontario sugar beet farmers produce 10,000 acres of sugar beets each year, but there is plenty of room for expansion, Lumley said.

"We can grow up to 50,000 acres right here in Lambton and Kent," Lambton said. "Opening up the table for sugar beets will lay the groundwork for eventually getting back in control of our food source with respect to sugar."

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said are no Canadian refineries capable of processing sugar beets. In fact, there is at least one refinery in Taber, Alta., that can do so.
    Oct 07, 2015 10:25 AM ET

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