What if it's not just politics blocking canola shipments?

There are a lot of anxious canola farmers in Canada at the moment – and with good reason. One of the most important export markets for Canadian canola has suspended imports from one of Canada’s largest and most storied grain companies, Richardson International.

The most common feeling seems to be that it is just politics and there is nothing that can be done about it. But what if it isn’t “just politics?”

The first question we have to ask ourselves is if this is politics why was there no announcement that China had suspended Richardson’s export license? Surely, if they wished to apply pressure they would have made it known that the suspension had occurred. We only found out about the suspension because Reuters found the documentation, several days after the suspension had taken effect.

The second question is why block a commodity that no one grows to any large extent east of Manitoba. Gaining or losing votes in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta will not change the next election very much so why not target something that will have more impact in Quebec or Ontario?

Another question some have asked is if they really are trying to send a message why did they approve the new canola traits this winter?

We seem to forget that last fall was the harvest from hell for huge parts of Western Canada’s canola growing region. A big part of the canola crop came off in very poor condition – tough and green. Do we think that all of these problems magically disappeared when the combines stopped rolling? Where is that canola going, is it being blended off by farmers, or grain companies? And, if so, what does that end product look like?

Richardson International’s Jean-Marc Ruest says that Richardson and other export companies had met all phytosanitary requirements at the time of shipping, and subsequent to this finding Ruest says that has been confirmed. (Hear that interview, here)

There have been very few answers forthcoming to these questions. The government has circled their wagons and is providing very few further details. The Canadian Grain Commission (CGC), who does the outboard inspections, is referring all questions to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), and the CFIA isn’t saying much.

Neither Richardson, nor the Chinese government, are giving any indication as to what the pest is which caused the suspension, though there are reports of a mix of disease and weed seeds being blamed. So why is this important? First of all, if there is a real problem then there is a real solution, and we should get to it.

Secondly, China is one of our most important trading partners. Canada can not afford to mess this up. Just ask the pulse producers where they would be if China did not buy large quantities of peas that had no home when the Indian market was closed. If this is a problem with a pest that can be removed from shipments we should remove it rather than simply insulting one of our largest trading partners – emphasis on partner.

The concern is that without real answers there can’t be real solutions. If there is a real problem everyone should know what it is so that the proper steps can be taken so that trade is not imperilled. As much fun as conspiracy theories are, this is a multi billion dollar trading relationship and it should be based on facts.

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