Here’s one profit-robbing pest Canadian canola farmers can’t control with the field sprayer — politics.
It was pretty clear during a webinar with the Canola Council of Canada (CCC) last week there is no immediate end in sight to
China’s refusal to accept Canadian canola seed because it is allegedly “contaminated”. It is not clear what pest recently-rejected shipments of Canadian canola seed contains, but it must be really bad because why else would the Chinese reject it? They’ve loved Canadian canola seed to the tune of about 2.7 billion dollars worth for years. So suddenly now we are shipping dirty canola?
In the meantime, while everyone is working “very hard” to fix the problem, the market price of Canadian canola continues to drop as uncertainty settles over an industry concerned about finding a market for what should be about 40 per cent of the 2019 canola crop.
The webinar was organized by the Canola Council of Canada to update farmers on the Chinese ban on Canadian canola seed. Along with Jim Everson, CCC president other speakers on the webinar were Rick White, CEO of the Canadian Canola Growers Association and Charlene Bradley, vice chair of the Saskatchewan Canola Growers. Good on them. They did as much as they could to update farmers on the situation.
Everyone was very careful. On the surface it is a trade issue brought on by the concern of Chinese authorities over shipments of canola seed from Richardson International, Viterra, Louis Dreyfus, Cargill and Parish and Heimbecker and others, that were contaminated with dangerous pests.
The elephant in the room that no one wanted to or could address directly is the other scenario that the Chinese are pissed off with Canada for arresting Meng Wanshou, CFO of the very influential Huawei corporation. She was arrested in Vancouver at the request of the U.S. government that wants her extradited to their legal system to face charges of illegal trading practices. Canada is acting as an agent on behalf of the U.S. government and as a consequence the political blowback has hit a very large fan with the fallout now raining down on Canadian farmers. It is a political manure spreader of super-sized proportions.
In a real, common sense world if a customer had a concern over quality of a product received, they’d call the supplier. The supplier would drive over to the customer’s office and say show me the problem. They would sort it out.
But this is political and no amount of science or common sense is likely to apply here until Ms. Wanshou is safely back on Chinese soil. Unless there is some miracle leverage applied in diplomatic circles — i.e. Canada can throw the vice-grips with equal force on an exposed area of Chinese flesh — the trade dispute will likely expand to include other Canadian exports like iron ore, wood products and who knows what else. China doesn’t appear inclined to let this go.
I’m sure everyone is working “very hard” to resolve the issue, which largely means sitting and waiting for the Chinese to lift the canola ban, when they are good and ready. Even if we had very effective federal government leadership, it is a difficult spot. When the largest economic engine in the world doesn’t want your canola for whatever reason, you can stomp your feet all you want with little effect. And if you decide to hurt them back through some retaliatory trade measure the situation could really get nasty.
In the meantime the price of Canadian canola drops and farmers have to consider their options on what to seed this spring. Will this trade dispute end allowing the price of canola to rebound by October? Can Canada find other markets for canola seed that will help support prices? Do farmers switch gears and grow something else that isn’t exported to China?
As a last resort, the Canadian prime minister could make a visit to China, dress up in ceremonial Chinese costume and offer a heart felt apology (with or without tears) but I’m not even sure that would do the trick.
Lee Hart is a field editor with Grainews based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]