OPINION-EDITORIAL: New agreements as agriculture ministers meet in Quebec

By Don McRae, Minister of Agriculture for British Columbia

One of the critical factors in our ability to grow B.C.’s agrifoods sector to a $14-billion-a-year industry by 2017 is a solid working relationship between the governments of B.C. and Canada.

Given the global market place and shared areas of jurisdiction, a strong federal-provincial partnership is crucial to agricultural progress. The cooperative relationship will also help B.C. achieve the main goals of our Agrifoods Strategy: developing high-quality, high-value products, expanding domestic and international markets and increasing competitiveness.

In an effort to continue that constructive relationship, I just attended a conference of Canadian agriculture ministers in Gatineau, Quebec. The goal of my attendance was to ensure B.C.’s diverse agriculture sector was well represented as we near final negotiations for a new funding agreement for B.C. producers.

The agreement is a new five-year agriculture policy framework that will build on the success of the Growing Forward suite of risk management, food safety, environmental and business development programs that conclude in the spring of 2013. The current agreement has brought $553 million of funding to B.C., in a 60/40 federal provincial sharing ratio.

Following our meetings in Quebec, there was wide consensus that the new agreement, Growing Forward 2, should focus on supporting and rewarding innovation, increasing competitiveness in agriculture, building market opportunities, and supporting adaptability and sustainability.

Growing Forward 2 will build stronger connections between federal and provincial governments in order to increase market opportunities for farmers, producers and food processors. The reputation and international demand for B.C. foods as a trusted, high-quality source of nutrition results in about $2.5 billion in agrifood exports a year to about 140 countries. With record exports to China in both 2010 and 2011, and increased emphasis on building our trading relationships in Asia, the opportunities for B.C.’s food producers and processors continue to grow.

I believe farmers and producers who participated in the consultation process to date will be pleased to see their view regarding the involvement of the entire value chain has been heard, and will likely form part of the agreement.

At the Gatineau meeting we agreed to further industry consultations with the goal of signing the Growing Forward 2 agreement in September and to have the new framework in place by this time next year. With much of the discussions focused on expanding market opportunities, federal and provincial agriculture ministers jointly reiterated our support for liberalized trade arrangements.

We agreed creating new trading blocs will benefit farming and food producing families but that these negotiations should clearly maintain our support for Canada’s supply management system.

British Columbian food producers and communities are well positioned to benefit from our province’s strong relationships with the federal government and trading partners around the world. By working together and continuing our emphasis on high quality products, new markets, and industry competitiveness, producers and processors will continue to invest in an agrifoods sector that employs more than 61,000 British Columbians, and directly contributes to the social, health and economic benefits of us all.

Connect with the Province of B.C. at www.gov.bc.ca/connect

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