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Ag industry leaders across Canada reflect on attention given to sector

A new report calls on the federal government to streamline government-agriculture interaction

By Jennifer Jackson

Canadian agricultural representatives are asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to formulate a new council dedicated to growing the agri-food industry, according to a new report titled Canada as an Agri-Food Powerhouse.

The Public Policy Forum (PPF) and the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI) created the report to summarize their roundtable discussion held in March, according to an Apr. 20 release. The discussions included the participation of some 150 stakeholders from Canada’s agri-food industry.

Recent government policies and funding plans, such as the federal budget, suggest the Canadian government recognizes the importance of agriculture for growing the country’s economy.

In fact, the CAPI/PPF publication compiles stakeholder discussion regarding the February report on Economic Growth, released by the Minister of Finance. This report noted the benefits that Canada’s ag industry could contribute to the country.

CAPI and PPF found stakeholders unanimously call for the Government to prioritize development in the agricultural industry, according to David McInnes, special advisor to the board and former chief executive officer of CAPI.

“The stakeholders we talked to made it clear – the agri-food sector needs to be a national economic priority. Establishing an Agri-Food Growth Council that reports to the centre of government and includes leaders from across the broader food system has the potential to drive this growth agenda, triage and resolve issues, and galvanize this diverse sector around a common vision,” he said in the release.

“Across the country we found unanimous opinions that the (recent) federal attention provides unprecedented opportunities for the agri-food sector,” said McInnes in a phone interview. “This (attention) helps build and retain consumer trust, attracts investment (in the sector), and attracts talent and people to the industry.”

The recent report also recommends the creation of an “inter-departmental agri-food task force,” according to the release. This task force would ideally create synergy between the industry and regulatory government needs.

Some of the most notable stakeholder comments from the roundtable discussions include:

-          Policies and strategies should be assessed with a vision that encourages Canada’s aspiration of being a trusted global food leader.

-          The agri-food regulatory system should increase its responsiveness to provide both consumer protection and a more streamlined regulatory process.

-          Internal trade barriers within Canada should shift to encourage domestic industry growth, while continuing to support our export program.

Economy

Broader co-operation necessary

Stakeholders also commonly suggested the need for the agriculture sector to work with aligning industries, according to McInnes.

“The minister’s economic report suggested the need for a government intradepartmental agriculture task force and an advisory group to assist the task force,” he said in the interview. The stakeholders were supportive of this potential development but stressed the importance of being inclusive of other industries.

The new task force should “bridge departments that have an (influence) on the food (sector) – not just agriculture, but also health, environmental, trade and so forth.”

The need to include other industries in the planning process also applies for the advisory group, according to McInnes.

“We (CAPI and stakeholders) believe the group needs to ensure it (includes) not just those from the (ag) industry,” said McInnes. The CAPI/PPF publication suggests the transportation sector, environmental groups and health industry, for example, should also play a role.

“This (teamwork) provides a better cross representation of the food system. As opposed to trying to deal with (every sector’s) regulatory obstacles (individually, an inclusive group) could triage and prioritize obstacles (together).”

Benefits for farmers

How will the federal attention on agricultural policies and programs affect producers? Producers will benefit from the government increasing national export programs but will also benefit from domestic market growth, according to McInnes.

“We are a big exporting economy and that gives (the country) significant wealth, but local and regional marketplaces also create opportunity for farmers, ranchers and fishermen. One (i.e. the export market or the domestic market) is not at the exclusion of the other – it’s more of an ‘and’ instead of an ‘or.’

“The (stakeholder recommendations) come back to focusing on the ‘whole government system’ – we hope (these recommendations and responses) make for a more rational, proactive strategy to help producers (and the industry) create new opportunities,” he said.


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