Agriculture ministers from across the country were hosted by B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham in Vancouver on Thursday and Friday.
The topics discussed at the annual ministerial get-together included trade, business risk management, labour, and the legalization of cannabis.
Here’s a summary of what was discussed at the meeting:
The ministers received an update on the NAFTA talks from Canada’s negotiators, and reiterated their commitment to working together in the ongoing negotiations.
Regarding the CPTPP, with Singapore ratifying the trade deal this week, there are now three countries that have approved the agreement that takes effect when six countries approve it domestically. Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay told reporters after the meeting in Vancouver that Canada is still aiming to be among the first six countries.
“We will have it ratified as soon as we possibly can. It will be very shortly,” said MacAulay.
Business risk management (BRM)
The ministers agreed at their annual meeting in July 2017 to undertake a year-long review of AgriStability, AgriInvest and the other BRM programs under the federal-provincial Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP). An expert panel that was created to guide the review shared its final report and recommendations with the ministers on Friday, specifically urging them to make changes to AgriStability.
The ministers acknowledged the concerns of some of the panel members who felt the review was still incomplete. Rather than extending the expert panel’s mandate however, the ministers directed government officials to continue working on the panel’s recommendations and report back in 2019.
MacAulay also announced $55 million for a renewed AgriRisk program under CAP to “encourage partnerships between agriculture industry stakeholders, researchers, and federal, provincial and territorial governments to proactively explore and develop new risk management products and services.”
The federal minister described the $55 million program as a response to a recommendation from the BRM expert panel, with the funding earmarked for developing programs if there are sectors that wish to top-up existing programs or address gaps in risk management.
This AgriRisk funding will be available for two areas: research and development, and administrative capacity building, with priority given to proposals for industry-led projects that develop new and innovative business risk management tools.
When asked whether the ministers worked on a contingency plan to support Canadian farmers if the U.S. government follows through with its promise to compensate its farmers for the impact of Chinese tariffs, MacAulay referred to existing programs under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, which includes AgriStability, AgriInvest and AgriRecovery.
“We’re not going to speculate on what might develop, but there’s a framework in place with the Canadian Agricultural Partnership now,” said the minister. “There is a system in place to make sure, if we hit any major problems, that we’re able to deal with it.”
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada says the ministers discussed the labour shortage in agriculture, the use of temporary foreign workers, agreed to continue to monitor the situation, and approved a work plan to “further develop strategies and engage industries on labour issues.”
Federal officials provided an update to the ministers on the legalization of marijuana, set to happen in October. The cannabis industry will be eligible to apply for federal funding under CAP. Provinces will have discretion on eligibility for programs that are cost-shared between the federal and provincial governments.
Income from cannabis will not be eligible for coverage under AgriStability and AgriInvest, although the ministers said they will monitor this as the industry matures.
“It’s important to realize cannabis is an agricultural product. Like any other agricultural product it’s open to other programs,” said MacAulay.
The ministers also discussed regulatory issues, including ways to streamline regulations, the creation of a Canadian Plant Health Council under the Plant and Animal Health Strategy for Canada, finalizing a national traceability system, and implementing the new Safe Food for Canadians Regulations.
The ministers also received an update from the federal government on the creation of the national food policy.
The 2019 ag ministers’ meeting is slated to be held in Quebec City next July.