This government does not take agriculture seriously, says former ag minister Ritz

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With no ambassador on the ground in China, and no face-to-face meeting scheduled between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chinese President Xi Jinping, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel of the latest round of trade suspensions.

“Wringing hands and begging Trump to intervene are not a good Plan B,” says former Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Gerry Ritz, adding that at the end of the day it’s a matter of face-to-face meetings.

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Why isn’t a Canadian representative on the ground now?

In January of this year, John McCallum resigned as Canada’s ambassador to China, at the request of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Though no official reason was given for decision, it occurred after comments McCallum made on the extradition request against Meng Wanzhou.

Following issues between Canadian canola exports and China, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau said she was ready to head to China, but was waiting on an invitation, and visa confirmations. She ended up meeting with China’s Agriculture Minister Han Changfu at the G20 agricultural ministers’ meeting held at Niigata, Japan instead.

Ritz has a choice word ranchers will recognize for the argument around visas, saying “we went through this exact same thing with Russia…and we got on a plane and went to Moscow, and we sat down and within a week we had it worked out and product flowing again.”

It’s likely, according to Ritz, there is some embarrassment over the issue, as well as concern over going, especially as the dispute goes beyond one single problem.

“At the same time the minister was going on about ‘I can’t get a visa,’ there was a Canadian Parliamentary delegation in China – how did they get there? It makes no sense to me.”

Not the first time

According to Ritz, problems like this happen “all the time,” and they’re typically caught at the port of entry by CFIA “spotters.” During Ritz’s time in office, CFIA personnel and Agriculture Canada personnel were stationed at each embassy important to agriculture, and that they intercepted a number of similar problems. He says it’s his understanding they aren’t there anymore.

“I’ll go so far as to say this government does not take agriculture seriously, and that’s unfortunate.”

Time to sit down face-to-face

Although he doesn’t think it’s time to make threats just yet, Ritz says it will take more than one conversation to solve this issue.

“This is politics, this isn’t practical. So you approach it from that standpoint.”

Admitting he wasn’t one known for diplomacy, Ritz says he’d start the conversation by giving a deadline for resolution. Then, considering body language and using short, direct questions, he’d try to define China’s concerns, and how they involve Canada.

“Even when we get the certificates fixed, it’s going to take a while to get back into that market,and you know there’s a huge domino effect right back to the processor.”

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