Morocco/Canada FTA discussions hailed

Talks that may lead to free trade negotiations between Canada and Morocco may help protect a major export market for Canadian durum and pulse crop exports, ag groups said this week.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture and Canadian Wheat Board both noted that grain and pulse producers and the CWB “have been pushing for this kind of agreement for several years now,” according to CFA president Laurent Pellerin.

Both the CFA and CWB made their statements after Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz met earlier this week with Morocco’s ag and trade ministers in Morocco to discuss opportunities for negotiation of a free trade agreement (FTA).

“The announcement of trade talks is very important for our western Canadian members, with CWB supplying over 90 per cent of the country’s durum import demand, making it the world’s top exporter of durum wheat to Morocco,” said Pellerin, a Quebec hog producer. “The trade relationship between these two countries is very important and trade talks with the hope of a free trade agreement are welcomed.”

Last year, CFA said, the trade relationship between Canada and Morocco was worth $450 million, of which farm products accounted for the “vast majority.”

Dominant position

“CWB sales are 75 per cent of Canada’s total exports to Morocco, where couscous made from durum wheat is a staple food,” CWB CEO Ian White said in a separate release. In 2008, the CWB sold a near-record 622,000 tonnes of durum to Morocco, worth about $300 million.

But Canada’s dominant durum market position is at risk of erosion from an FTA signed four years ago between Morocco and the U.S., which will “increasingly put Canadian imports at a tariff disadvantage to American imports,” the CWB said.

“We need a deal that can put western Canadian farmers on an even footing with their global competitors,” White said. “Canada cannot afford to jeopardize its favourable position in one of the few significant world markets for high-quality durum.”

The CWB said it has built close relationships with Moroccan millers and grain buyers over the past 15 years to triple its share of the country’s durum import market since 1995-96.

The board noted it regularly brings Moroccan grain industry representatives to Winnipeg for technical development sessions at the Canadian International Grains Institute (CIGI) and runs regular market development missions to Morocco, most recently in December.

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