National Newswatch

Agrifood industry needs to keep prodding governments on regulatory burden.

 

OTTAWA—While the agrifood strategy table bettered the federal government’s agrifood export goal by $10 billion, that might not be an ambitious enough target, says Saskatchewan farmer Lee Moats.

The 2017 federal budget set a goal of $75 billion worth of agrifood exports by 2025. Currently Canada is at $52 billion or in the $56 billion range in fish and seafood products are included.

Moats, a Saskatchewan farmer, member of the Pulse Canada board and one of the strategy table report drafters, told the Grow Canada conference the $85 billion goal came out during in-house discussions before the report was released in September. “But the real question for me is whether that’s high enough.

“We need transformational change but I don’t know if $85 billion is big enough to produce the changes we need.”

One of the biggest obstacles is the mass of federal and provincial regulations the sector has to cope with, he said. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development ranks Canada 14th overall in terms of regulatory simplicity. “Even being in the top 10 shouldn’t be good enough,” he said. “We should aim for first place.”

The regulatory burden, detailed in the Canadian Chamber of Commerce report Deaths by 130,00 Cuts released in May, is a problem for the entire Canadian economy, Moats said. “Everyone across the economy is talking about the country’s debilitating regulatory environment.”

While Canada needs some regulations, it’s time for governments to meet with the agrifood industry to prune the regulatory down to what’s truly needed. That would include getting rid of different provincial standards that accomplish little but cause the economy considerable harm. “We need free trade across the country.”

The strategy table report also called on the agrifood sector to aim for $140 billion in domestic food sales by 2025 compared to the $110 billion in 2017 and the creation of a permanent and independent panel of industry experts to keep regulators focused on advancing the sector.

It also lamented the lack of strong Canadian firms to lead international sales efforts, acute infrastructure bottlenecks that disrupt flow of goods within Canada and to export markets, inadequate broadband service that limits the ability of farmers and processors to take advantage of new technologies, tight labour markets, restricted access to foreign workers and finding skilled workers for the sector.

Moats said the government’s fall economic statement recognized in part the recommendations from the strategy table but the sector needs to keep the pressure on Ottawa to act. It should do that in concert with the four other economic strategy tables, which face similar problems.

‘We need everyone in agrifood to be telling the government to act on our recommendations,” he said. “We need to provide the government with ongoing practical advice.”

He said that regulations are developed by officials “who don’t have to live with the consequences of them.” That’s why regulated sectors need to have more say in the development of regulations and the whittling down of the current regulatory mountain.

The country sorely needs better transportation and Internet infrastructure that is currently delayed in regulatory obstacles, he said. “Right now it takes far too long to win approval for environmental approval for new infrastructure projects.”

The strategy table called for the sector to aim for higher sales of domestically-produced foods in Canada the country lags behind many others in that category.

The worker shortage in agrifood is a huge challenge, he said. That applies for both unskilled and skilled workers as the sector needs people who can handle modern technology.

“There is so much room for innovation in the sector but we need people with the skill sets to implement it.”

Alex Binkley is a freelance journalist and writes for domestic and international publications about agriculture, food and transportation issues. He’s also the author of two science fiction novels with more in the works.
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