Action needed to reopen Italy to Canadian durum: Cereals Canada

With the ink still drying on a trade agreement that was supposed to reduce barriers to trade, a protectionist measure has shut out one of Canada’s largest single product exports to Europe.

Durum wheat shipments from Canada to Italy have been halted since October, shortly after the Italian government announced it was moving ahead with country-of-origin labeling requirements on pasta.

Historically, Canada has shipped about a million tonnes of durum to Italy each year, amounting to about a quarter of all Canadian durum exports, says Cam Dahl, president of Cereals Canada, in the interview below.

“Canada has lost its single largest export into Europe since the agreement was signed,” he says. “We need to stand up and challenge these country-of-origin labeling provisions.”

The national cereal crop industry group is demanding the Canadian government formally file a dispute under the Canada-EU Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement (CETA), which took effect in September.

“It could be challenged under CETA or under the WTO,” says Dahl. “We’ve had good strong diplomatic support with our ambassadors, ministers and deputy ministers… We haven’t had signals that the government is willing to take that next step and pursue more public and aggressive action to defend our interests. We are calling on that.”

When the U.S. implemented similar country-of-origin labeling rules on pork and beef (which were overturned after a WTO challenge), some major players in the U.S. livestock industry sided with Canadian interests, wanting access to imported hogs and cattle. Thanks to a large durum crop in France and Italy last year, there has not yet been any strong domestic push by Italian millers for access to Canadian imports, says Dahl, noting the labeling rules have been accompanied by an anti-glyphosate campaign by groups looking to block Canadian durum imports.

Meanwhile, since most of Canada’s durum-growing area overlaps with the area of Saskatchewan and Alberta where lentils are grown, he notes many of the producers who are affected by India’s unilateral tariffs on pulse crops are also the hardest hit by Italy’s new pasta rules.

If the Canadian government doesn’t challenge Italy’s labeling rule, Dahl fears there’s potential for additional protectionist measures limiting export market access.

“If other countries look at what Italy has done and say ‘hey, this works,’ we could see provisions like this cropping up all over Europe. I’m concerned about that.”

Listen to Cam Dahl discuss Italy’s pasta labeling rules, as well as the prospect of a strike with CP Rail this weekend, and the Canadian Grain Commission’s changes to wheat variety classifications, as heard on RealAg Radio:

Related: Canada considering options to challenge Italian COOL on pasta

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