Farm Group Calls for Streamlined Border Access

*photo courtesy CTV news

owenIt’s great to see farm groups take a public position. Their members want to hear from them, and increasingly, so does the public, especially when these groups are represented by real farmers.

Even better yet is when a farm group’s concerns mesh with the public’s understanding of the status quo – such as border crossing into the USA.

Exports continue to be held out as a key to economic recovery. The USA is by far our biggest trading partner, and the agri-food sector believes there’s potential for more trade yet.

But there’s only one way to get these across the border, and at some level, that’s to get in line with everyone else.

That’s a big problem for the agri-food sector, when perishable goods are involved.

The Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario wants that to change. It says improving efficiency by reducing red tape at the border and increasing the coordination among regulators – especially in the U.S., which is growing more cautious about border access and security — is increasingly important to Ontario agriculture, as processing hub and export opportunities continue to emerge.

Nathan Stevens, the organization’s general manger and director of policy development, says conservative estimates cite as many as 50 regulatory bodies that can have some impact on border movement. Other estimates are twice that high.

“There is the need to develop agriculture-specific programs that move trusted exporters into an efficient position to move goods and reduce costs,” he says.

Why single out Ontario? Well, it has one of the largest food processing hubs in North America, with more than 3,000 businesses involved in food processing, employing 100,000-plus people.

Stevens says this processing concentration is a tremendous asset for Ontario farmers.

“Having processing close to where food is grown can provide a logistical edge for the entire value chain,” he says.

But if farmers and processors are held up too much at the border, the opportunity is lost.

Stevens is careful to note his organization is not suggesting thorough inspection be sacrificed for speedier access. One slip, one short cut, and importers’ confidence in Ontario agriculture would be compromised.

However, he’s convinced the 50 or so regulatory groups at the border could work more closely together. As he says, “we’re not asking for less rigour in inspection, just better coordination.”

I think the public will side with the Christian farmers on this. Good for them for trying to promote a better understanding of an issue that’s important to farmers.

 

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy

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