Ontario farm leaders head south to keep U.S. ag trade flowing


Starting Wednesday, Ontario ag leaders are headed south of the border to try to mend some of the trade fences that embattled U.S. President Donald Trump has crashed through.

Led by Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs minister Jeff Leal, the group – which includes representatives from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Egg Farmers of Ontario and Food and Consumers Products Canada – will make its first stop in Wisconsin.

That’s where Trump declared war on supply management in Canada, especially dairy, claiming it was hurting U.S. farmers.

Other trips are planned for Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, states where Ontario does appreciable business and vice versa.

In an interview, Leal says he plans to speak about the benefits of two-way trade between borders. In Wisconsin, he and the Ontario entourage will meet with a slate of decision makers that includes the state’s secretary of agriculture and federal representatives.

A point he’ll make in these meetings is that the pre-Trump border situation has worked well for most American farmers…certainly in Wisconsin, where the trade balance between Ontario and the state is about $1 billion in favour of Wisconsin.

That figure doesn’t support Trump’s contention that Ontario or Canadian trade policies here have created big problems for Wisconsin producers.

“When it comes to trade, there are peaks and valleys,” says Leal. “That’s the nature of trade. We’ll politely, firmly and diplomatically point out the advantages of two-way trade.”

Leal says he’ll continue to defend supply management and the interests of Ontario farmers and processors.

Much is at stake. Figures from the premier’s office show the U.S. is Ontario’s number one trading partner. In 2016, two-way agri-food trade between the province and America totalled about $28.8 billion.

Earlier this month, Leal and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne met with several of the province’s agri-food leaders to discuss trade relations with the United States. Opportunities, challenges and the way forward were all on the table, they said.

Now comes the follow through.

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