The federal agriculture minister remains fully committed to her government’s cross-border vaccination mandate for truck drivers, despite pressure from some industry groups and provinces to loosen the requirement to reduce the impact it’s having on specific supply chains.
While there’s been much discussion about the direct effect the mandate could potentially have on grocery prices, several livestock producer groups in Western Canada, such as the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association and Manitoba Pork Council, have raised concerns about the mandate also increasing the shortage of drivers for cross-border shipments of feed and live animals.
In Alberta, for example, distiller’s dried grains that are a critical part of cattle rations due to the drought in Western Canada this year are often trucked across the border from Montana. It’s a similar situation with soymeal for pig feed in Manitoba where producers are also reporting trouble finding drivers to haul weanlings to barns in the U.S.
“Yes, we have challenges in terms of transportation because of the labor shortage, but the Canadian Trucking Association does not support the protests, and says that about 90 per cent of the truckers are vaccinated. So it’s not the mandatory vaccination that is a problem,” says Marie-Claude Bibeau, discussing the mandate and the widespread truck driver protests in the interview below.
“Actually, the protest in Alberta is blocking truckers carrying livestock. So it’s the other way around. It’s the protest that is creating more pressure on our our supply chain,” she says, referring to the blockade at the Coutts border crossing.
Provincial politicians, including Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Manitoba Agriculture Minister Derek Johnson, have also raised concerns about the cross-border mandate, with Johnson saying he planned to lobby Bibeau to have the federal government shift to a testing requirement for drivers.
“This is not the problem,” says Bibeau, when asked whether she would consider a proposal to allow non-vaccinated truck drivers to provide a test result at the border. “The problem is really fighting together against COVID. And the best way to do it is to get vaccinated.”
In addition to the cross-border mandate, Bibeau also discusses the government’s National Supply Chain Summit held on Monday, the latest on the PEI potato situation following her trip to Washington, DC last week, the Canadian government’s decision to join the U.S.-led coalition of countries focused on “sustainable productivity growth” in agriculture, the timeline for resuming beef exports to China, and more. You can listen, here:
Her takeaways from Monday’s National Supply Chain Summit:
“It was a very interesting first discussion, it’s only the beginning. We’ve put in place a supply chain taskforce, and we will continue to work collaboratively with the industry. We will open up a consultation to the public as well. This is very critical.”
“The fact that our containers are no longer at the right place at the right moment necessarily, and that sometimes we see containers going back empty, increasing the price of transportation, do we have to put in place some kind of prioritization of critical goods? This is something that has been brought (forward), gathering more data as well, to understand better the issue and make good decisions. So there’s a lot to be discussed and put in place to try to to strengthen our supply chain.”
An update on the PEI potato export situation following her trip to Washington, DC last week:
“It was a very good meeting with Secretary Vilsack, my counterpart, and also the head of APHIS, which is the counterpart of CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency), the regulatory agency. So our ask was really having them have APHIS focus its risk analysis on table stock potatoes, specifically, and Secretary Vilsack agreed to this request, and talking with the head of APHIS was confident that they could complete their analysis for Puerto Rico within two weeks. And they said that it would take a few more weeks to consider, you know, reopening the market for table stock potatoes from PEI to the mainland of the United States.”
On whether politics are factoring into the U.S. government’s concerns about potatoes from PEI:
“I hope not. And I think it’s not. I mean, there are legitimate phytosanitary concerns behind the decisions of the Americans to not allow Canadian PEI potatoes crossing the border, because it’s really their decision…. Our objective is really to have them focus on table potatoes because we are very confident that our phytosanitary measures are strong enough to reassure APHIS and reassure Secretary Vilsack that table stock potatoes with phytosanitary measures can be exported with negligible risks in terms of soil contamination.”
On the timeline for seed potatoes being allowed to leave PEI:
“Well, we know that we have to proceed with tens of thousands of soil analyses. So CFIA indicated that it may last until 2023. Obviously, we’re trying to give them more resources and to speed up this calendar, but it’s at least a matter of a full year.”
On joining the U.S.-led coalition focused on sustainable productivity growth in agriculture, which is seen by some as countering the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy:
“Well, I think it is very important to us that Canada remains a leader in sustainable agriculture, and that we continue to invest in innovation, and that we continue to partner with those countries who are also committed. So it was natural to us to work together with the Americans. We are like-minded in many on many topics around agriculture and science-based trade, and also rules-based trade as well, so this is another channel of partnership that we think was valuable.”
On China resuming imports of Canadian beef, as South Korea and Philippines have:
“We keep sharing information, the right information with them. And as we know, the atypical cases should not have any impact on our trade according to the WTO rules. So we’ll keep pushing, and we’ll see how fast the acknowledge and reopen the border.”