Formal trade agreement with Morocco sought

Prairie farm leaders are applauding efforts of the Canadian government to strengthen trade ties with Morocco. 

Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP), the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS), and Wild Rose Agricultural Producers (WRAP) said in a release they are encouraged that the federal government has engaged in discussion with the Kingdom of Morocco on opportunities for a free trade agreement.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Minister Gerry Ritz met with the agriculture and trade leaders from Morocco last week. 

“Here in Western Canada we’re export reliant, and we want to build on our exports of grain, pulses, and other agricultural products, so this is positive news,” said Ian Wishart, KAP President.

The farm leaders agree the move to negotiate with Morocco will help put Canada on the same level as other trade partners such as the U.S. and the European Union.

“Free trade agreements that put us on equal footing with our neighbours will go a long way to benefit producers,” said Greg Marshall, APAS President.

“We welcome this news because any development is good for farmers and it takes away the competitive disadvantage in the marketplace,” said Humphrey Banack, WRAP President.

Ritz however raised eyebrows by not inviting representatives of the Canadian Wheat Board to accompany him on his trade mission, choosing instead to travel with a representative of the Grain Growers of Canada, one of the board’s biggest critics. 

Morocco routinely is the CWB’s second largest export durum customer, following Algeria. Last crop year Morocco imported 622,000 tonnes of Western Canadian durum wheat worth around $300 million. Exports there have averaged 476,000 tonnes during the previous 10 years.

Last year the board was responsible for nearly all of Canada’s $450 million exports to Morocco. In most years, CWB sales to the north African country represent 60 to 80 per cent of total Canadian imports.

“They (CWB) always tell me they have global outreach, they have salesmen throughout the world,” Ritz told reporters during a telephone news conference April 17. “I’m not sure why they would wait for me to lead a trade mission. I think they should be here on a month-by-month basis. This is an important market.”

For it’s part, the board’s president and CEO Ian White praised the federal government’s efforts to formalize the trading relationship. The board has been asking the federal government to negotiate a free trade agreement with the African country similar to what the United States did four years ago. 

“We need a deal that can put western Canadian farmers on an even footing with their global competitors,” CWB president and CEO Ian White said in a news release praising the federal government for starting free trade talks with Morocco. “Canada cannot afford to jeopardize its favourable position in one of the few significant world markets for high-quality durum.”

Canada also wants to increase its pulse crop exports to Morocco, Ritz said. That’s why Pulse Canada was included in the mission, he said. Last crop year Canada didn’t export any dry peas or lentils to Morocco, but exports of each averaged 667,550 and 218,880 tonnes, respectively during the previous two crop years.

Imports are hampered by a 50 per cent tariff on Canadian lentils and an 80 per cent tariff on Canadian peas.

Moroccan farmers are also looking for Canadian dairy and crop genetics, as well as new technology, as they shift out of subsistence farming, Ritz said.

There’s also an opportunity for Canada to export beef to Morocco, he said.

Canadians are interested in buying high quality Moroccan citrus crops and vegetables, Ritz said.

 

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