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Canada's agri-food sector positions itself for COVID-19 recovery

Canada's Ministers of Agriculture from all levels of government prioritised pandemic recovery and long-term sustainability when making key decisions about the sector.

25 November 2020, at 7:57am

Canada’s federal, provincial, and territorial (FPT) Ministers of Agriculture held the first of two virtual meetings as part of their annual conference. Ministers gathered virtually to make key decisions to help ensure that our agriculture and agri-food sector remains ready to address the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and sector development. They discussed a number of initiatives to help Canadian producers and processors build on the sector’s solid fundamentals and chart a path forward for growth and sustainability, and will meet again for discussions on additional topics on 27 November.

As COVID-19 continues to impact Canada’s economy, and poses ongoing challenges for the agriculture and agri-food sector, the contributions of the women and men in the sector will be an important element of economic recovery. The sector has shown great resilience, adapting to tremendous change and continuing to deliver for Canadians. FPT governments have been working to support these essential businesses throughout the pandemic, to ensure that Canadians continue to have access to safe and nutritious food on their grocery store shelves.

Speaking at the virtual meeting on 20 November, federal Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said, “Farmers and agri-food businesses across the country are relying on their governments to help them address the many challenges they are facing. It has been a tumultuous year and, through it all, they have shown incredible resilience. These discussions are an important chance for my colleagues and I to collaborate on key measures we can take together to better support their success and continued ability to deliver for Canadians.”

FPT governments recognise the challenges farmers are facing. To help farmers continue to contribute to the recovery, Ministers reviewed and discussed possible options for improvements to Business Risk Management (BRM) programmes which aim to provide producers with tools to protect the viability of their operations and to manage risks beyond their control. Ministers look forward to a productive discussion on BRM at their 20 November 27 meeting.

Farm labour and essential work

Ministers recognised that workers across our food supply chain – whether Canadian citizens, permanent residents or temporary foreign workers – provide an essential service to our country, and emphasised the importance of working to prevent and reduce the spread of COVID-19 to provide safe and healthy workplaces. They also noted the need to be ready for the potential that long-standing labour challenges are compounded by COVID-19-related disruptions in the upcoming 2021 season.

Ministers agreed that labour will remain a top priority looking ahead to the next agricultural policy framework. To this end, FPT governments will work with their respective ministries of labour to help ensure the continued availability of labour to support the agriculture and agri-food sector, and highlight the opportunities that exist for Canadians looking for work.

FPT governments will continue to collaborate with industry to share best practices on current and future competencies needed to support sector renewal, careers in the sector, new and changing technologies, and recruitment and retention strategies.

FPT governments will also continue to look for opportunities to support innovation and facilitate the deployment of technology to improve productivity and competitiveness, and continue to build on measures introduced since the spring to support producers and food processors. This includes efforts to ensure the safe arrival of Temporary Foreign Workers into Canada and the prompt sharing of relevant data among government partners. Additional key elements may include efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and address outbreaks, and to support health and safety measures on farms and in agri-food businesses, in collaboration with the relevant ministries within their jurisdiction.

Canada's African swine fever strategy

Given the significant threat that African swine fever (ASF) continues to pose to the Canadian pork supply chain, FPT governments agree further action is required to prevent and prepare for ASF. FPT partners are supporting the government-industry Pan-Canadian ASF Action Plan, which will enable a timely and coordinated response to reduce the risk of an outbreak in Canada and, should an outbreak occur, support industry with a pan-Canadian coordinated, cooperative and prompt response to market challenges and disease eradication. Ministers asked officials to conduct more analysis on how an outbreak could impact different provinces and regions, and to return with regular updates on progress made on the Pan-Canadian ASF Action Plan.

Ernie Hardeman, Ontario's Minister of Agriculture said, “This has been a most challenging year for our farmers and for the entire agri-food sector. I appreciate the collaboration by the ministers today and the headway made on important subjects including African Swine Fever and labour. I look forward to more of the same next week – particularly as it relates to seeking enhancements on business risk management programming available to producers.”

Ministers also endorsed the progress made in the creation of Animal Health Canada, a proposed new government-industry management structure. Animal Health Canada is intended to help enhance stakeholder collaboration to implement actions to prevent, prepare for, and react to animal health emergencies, such as ASF. Ministers supported the efforts to further develop this coordination mechanism between FPT governments and industry using the ASF Executive Management Board as a working model, now currently in a pilot stage.

In official meetings in preparation for their annual conference, Ministers reviewed ongoing work on key regulatory priorities, towards a more agile regulatory system that protects food safety while enabling competitiveness in global markets. They underscored the importance of effective collaboration to respond to concerns from industry and the public to ensure that imported products respect Canada’s strict requirements, and to prevent food fraud. FPT governments also noted key accomplishments to streamline regulations to spur innovation and growth and reduce internal trade barriers.

The Canadian agri-food sector remains resilient, as exports of agri-food products continue to grow. Ministers noted that close collaboration among FPT governments remains important to spur this growth, in preparation for economies around the world to rebound. Ministers also discussed ways to maintain and develop new market opportunities for high-quality Canadian agriculture and food products to meet the export target of $75 billion by 2025.