Such a policy could help Canada post-pandemic, the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers say
By Diego Flammini
An Alberta ag industry organization wants the federal government to develop a domestic sugar policy.
Multiple reasons come to mind about why such a policy would be good for Canada and its farmers, said Melody Garner-Skiba, executive director of the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers.
“Canada is one of the only major trading nations without a domestic sugar policy in place,” she told Farms.com. “It means the value along the supply chain has been traded away to farmers in places like Brazil and Guatemala who are highly subsidized and have a policy backing them.”
In China, for example, since 2001 the country has enforced a sugar tariff-rate quota (TRQ) with a 15 per cent tax on imports up to 1.94 million metric tons. This tax rate increases to 50 per cent if imports exceed that volume.
The United States, the European Union and Japan are also among countries with sugar policies designed to spur domestic production.
As of 2013, the U.S. charged CAD$372 per tonne of imported sugar and Japan charged CAD$1,079 per tonne. By comparison, Canada charged only $31 per tonne.
ASBG is working with industry growers and reps to come up with a united message to deliver to provincial and federal lawmakers.
The policy isn’t about money, it’s about fairness, Garner-Skiba said.
“We’re not looking for subsidies or anything like that,” she said. “We’re looking for a model that would allow TRQs to be managed to encourage domestic production. And we’d like any trade deals to prioritize beet sugar.”
Food security is another reason a domestic sugar policy is necessary in Canada.
Canadians during the pandemic demonstrated an interest in local food, Garner-Skiba said.
“Canadians want access to products that are made in Canada,” she said. “We have the ability to produce more sugar if we had the domestic policy in place.”
A Dalhousie University study shows Canadians’ willingness to pay more for local goods.
Researchers surveyed 10,266 people in October 2020. More than 36 per cent of respondents indicated they would pay about a 10 per cent premium for locally grown fresh produce.
Canada produces about 8 to 10 per cent of it uses. Aside from 20,000 tonnes of exports to the U.S. and some to Mexico, the rest is used domestically.
Beet sugar is used in similar methods as cane sugar.
“Anything you can use cane sugar for you can use beet sugar for,” Garner-Skiba said. “Shoppers will find it on the grocery store shelves, it can be used in baking and it can be turned into liquid sugar to feed bees. And the pulp and molasses from processing can be used for livestock feed.”
Another potential benefit of a domestic sugar policy is helping Canada recover from the pandemic.
Roger’s Sugar Factory in Taber, Alta. is the only refinery in Canada to use sugar beets.
And between May and June of this year, Canada lost more than 275,000 jobs.
Encouraging domestic sugar production can help recover some lost employment, Garner-Skiba said.
“Producing more sugar can lead to investment in refineries, which creates jobs,” she said. “That’s economic and rural development and it isn’t just labour work. You’re talking research and development, science and other areas that can contribute from an employment and GDP perspective.”
Farms.com has contacted Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada for comment on a potential domestic sugar policy.