I was recently invited to speak to the World Trade Organization’s SPS Delegation about the challenges and opportunities facing producers when it comes to international trade.
So, you’re probably asking what’s SPS?
Sometimes that’s the problem with government bodies. The jargon and acronyms can make us tune out and think it’s not important, but stick with me…because this topic is incredibly important.
SPS stands for Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures – it refers to the basic rules on food safety and animal and plant health standards that governments around the world are required to follow.
Sounds simple enough, right? But organizations like the WTO are concerned that some of these “rules” can be used as an excuse for protecting domestic producers. Essentially, the rules can be disguised protectionism and that hurts all of us.
Let’s not forget that Canada is a trading nation, especially in agriculture and food, where we grow and produce more than we can consume domestically. As producers, our livelihoods depend on trade.
The Stanley Cup of International Trade
You all know I love hockey, so I think of it this way – let’s focus on winning the Stanley Cup rather than being the MVP. The Cup is the ultimate goal, and so many team members are part of it. But in today’s world, a lot of people (politicians and countries) are more focused on being noticed, wanting their name on something, and being the MVP versus winning the Cup.
I use the Colorado Avalanche as an example. During last year’s playoffs, everybody knew Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar, yet Landeskog (the captain) was likely the key piece in winning the Cup and many people never heard or knew of him.
When it comes to international trade, all 164 members of the WTO need to focus on winning the Stanley Cup, in this case, feeding the world. Too often, we have a few countries that focus on just being the MVP. I think Trudeau and Putin each have fallen into this category at times, as examples.
One of the key messages that I put forward to the SPS Delegation was that we must be allowed to feed the world and we will need technology and innovation to help make that happen.
Sustainability can’t be a barrier to economic trade.
First off, let’s set the stage for just how important international trade is to Canada and Saskatchewan. Canada is currently the 5th largest exporter of food, globally. Saskatchewan Premier Moe recently shared that Saskatchewan exports over 70% of its products to 150 countries. Agri-food exports in 2022 totaled $18.4 billion, which was a record-breaking year.
What’s even more impressive is that we’re doing all of that sustainably. Our producers are leading the way in sustainable crop production practices. Consider that Saskatchewan has a lower carbon footprint than its top 7 competitors in the following crops:
- Canola – 64% lower carbon footprint
- Wheat – 65% lower carbon footprint
- Field peas – 95% lower carbon footprint
Technology is making agriculture a globally competitive landscape. Are we, as producers, ready for it? Do we have a unified voice? I wrote a blog a few weeks ago about how fractured our industry has become in Canada alone. On the international scale, even more so. This is where we really need our federal government to show leadership, help unite the many voices and put that story out there to our international trading partners.
Perception vs Reality
I questioned why Greta Thuneberg has a louder voice than the world’s 570 million farmers?? It brings me to mind of this recent Tik Tok that went viral and received a lot of negative criticism online. Have a look.
EDUCATION – To save the world “farming needs to stop”
Our youth & future brainwashed by corporations & unelected bodies nudging & pushing them into a life of servitude to governments that can’t feed or clothe them, without farming.
End. Of. Days 🔥
— Bernie’s Tweets (@BernieSpofforth) March 5, 2023
This is a clear example of how some of today’s youth are completely misinformed about farming. If farming “needs to stop” how do they expect to eat? Consumer perceptions of farming can actually be a barrier to sustainability. Let’s take the debate about the herbicide, glyphosate, for example.
We’ve been using glyphosate on crops for more than 40 years and we will continue to need this important herbicide in order to grow more food. If access to glyphosate is threatened or limited, it could have a massive impact on food production. It’s easy to say “chemicals are bad,” but the world needs to understand that, when used properly, they are safe and essential to food production.
We need to be proactive and use technology and innovation to ensure continued access to products that protect plant and soil health.
Let’s allow farmers to feed the world
International trade is complex and I’m not trying to simplify the issue in this blog. From tariffs, extreme weather, climate policies, global volatility, currency, inflation and the rise of populism…all are important factors threatening international trade. Ultimately, we need to work like a team to ensure that we can grow enough food to feed the world and that the countries who count on our products can buy them.
I can’t overstate the importance and power of policy – good policy will allow us to flourish and bad policy will kill our farms. Simple as that.
Policymakers and scientists need to agree on global theories but understand that regional strategies will be important. What works in one region, country or part of the world will not work for another. And, finally, the three pillars that must guide policy decisions need to be rooted in social, economic and environmental benefits to all.
Thank you to Agriculture Canada and the WTO for inviting me to speak to the SPS Delegation. I hope my comments provided some perspective on both the challenges and opportunities that exist for Canadian agriculture on the world stage.