By Philip Legrand, Trade and Value-Added Branch, Regina
What is the relationship between public trust and international trade? What can the agriculture sector can do build and maintain public trust and market share?
Farmers and exporters have the freedom to market their product wherever they see the best business opportunity. Part of this freedom stems from Canada's reputation world-wide as a supplier of safe, nutritious and high-quality agriculture and agri-food products, including grains, oilseeds, pulses, livestock and other products.
Saskatchewan is an exporting province and agriculture is an exporting industry. Saskatchewan exported $13.4 billion worth of agriculture and agri-food products in 2018. To take advantage of our position as a large agricultural producer and exporter, the province must maintain consistent market access to our export markets to generate wealth.
Marketing freedom can be threatened by changing consumer perceptions and attitudes. There are examples of markets being closed to our products, despite our international reputation. For example, Italian farmers have made several claims regarding the chemical and agricultural practices used in Canada. The claims called into question Canadian producers use of glyphosate, despite evidence of safe use and opposition from Italian flour millers and pasta makers. As a result, Saskatchewan exports of durum to Italy dropped significantly. This is one example where public trust played a major role in losing market share in a key export destination.
Industry-led initiatives have attempted to address this ongoing risk to export markets. The Canola Council of Canada, Cereals Canada, Barley Council of Canada, Prairie Oat Growers Association and Pulse Canada have all contributed to the Keep it Clean initiative. This initiative aims to make producers aware of the importance of using approved plant protection products in accordance with their label. The campaign is important because it provides producers with the knowledge to maintain public trust, which ultimately helps maintain access to key export markets. Keep it Clean and initiatives like it will mitigate many risks faced by the value-chain.
Markets around the world have the right to establish their own import tolerances for plant protection products. Countries with internal capacity to conduct their own risk assessments have tended to develop their own standards, instead of adopting maximum residue limits (MRLs) set by international bodies. Countries that have not set an import tolerance for active ingredients in plant protection products will typically adopt a zero tolerance policy until a standard is established. Testing equipment for plant protection residues is gradually becoming more sensitive and also more affordable.
What can we do to maintain public confidence domestically and internationally in production practices? First, we must continue to tell the story of how food is grown here and explain why certain products and practices are used to produce food. Second, we must ensure that our industry is doing the right thing. This includes using plant protection products according to their labels. Finally, we must ensure our trading partners know about our robust food safety system. Canada has one of the top food safety systems in the world and it not only ensures that the food we eat is safe, but also ensures the food that is sold to consumers overseas is safe as well.