Commitment to the 18-year-old North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) remains strong on both sides of the Canada/U.S. border, even if it hasn’t been in the news much lately. An agreement signed by Prime Minister Harper and President Obama just last year will further reduce trade barriers. This new agreement specifically addresses the crop protection industry and will streamline the product-approval process. As a result, I’m confident we’ll see significant benefits for Canadian farmers.
How will this take shape?
In February of 2011, the US and Canada announced the formation of the Regulatory Cooperation Council. Its goal is to find ways of reducing and preventing regulatory barriers to cross-border trade. Under the Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC), a Crop Protection Products Working Group (which, I’m proud to say, is chaired by Syngenta researchers), was created to specifically “facilitate equal access to effective means of pest control in both countries.” In accord with NAFTA principles, the goal is to harmonize the crop protection approval systems and generate new efficiencies.
Once these areas of efficiency and harmonization are identified, it will be up to the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) branch of Health Canada and its equivalent organization, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to administer the resulting policies. The PMRA is responsible for pesticide regulation in Canada ensuring well-labelled, safe and effective crop protection products.
The Pest Control Products Act governs the activity of the PMRA. The Act is re-evaluated and updated every seven years and next year is year seven. The timelines of the RCC Crop Protection Products Working Group overlap with this timeframe, so it won’t be surprising if the two initiatives feed into one another. We aren’t expecting big changes to the Act, but it’s a safe bet that it will not include measures to slow the registration of crop protection products in Canada.
The initiative that I feel is bringing Canadian farmers the best return is the harmonization of the data that pesticide manufacturers must submit to get new product approval. If both the PMRA and the EPA accept the same research data and participate together in the review process, everyone will save time and money while maintaining product quality and food safety. We feel this harmonization will help new technologies reach the hands of U.S. and Canadian growers, resulting in harmonized Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs).
The Canadian Experience
Rest assured that harmonization won’t come at the expense of products tailored to the Canadian soil and climate. Canadian research is required to confirm the safety and efficacy of new products before they reach the farm. In fact, some manufacturers have changed their pesticide product formulations to work better in our cooler climate as a result of PMRA feedback. We believe that our harmonization efforts will take the best from both systems while maintaining our top-notch, science-based regulatory efforts to bring timely technology to farmers. In essence this means greater regulatory cooperation between agencies like PMRA and EPA.
These regulatory agencies have done a great job engaging and working with their stakeholders – including grower and industry groups and the crop-protection companies themselves – to identify areas of collaboration that would facilitate global trade opportunities for Canadian growers.