Canada should prime the trade pump now, before recession makes it inevitable

(Kara Oosterhuis/RealAgriculture)

The topic of trade has been tumbling around my brain for quite some time. There is something not sitting well with me regarding how Canada seems to view trade, and how it is being enabled.

Canada is a country of about 38 million with vast resources and a land mass that was made to produce commodities and goods not just desired, but also required by the world. Our population is not proportional to our production capabilities. Did you know that the state of California has about 39 million people? Domestic demand simply can’t consume all of what we produce.

We are, at our very core, an exporting nation, but the issue is that the Canadian government currently does not seem to prioritize trade.

Blame the pandemic, blame short-term politics, or first-world comforts, but the importance of trade to Canada’s economy has slipped the minds of many Canadians.

With supply chain issues happening globally, attention has focused on domestic food-related issues. Food and economic security cannot be achieved by ignoring trade, and trade shouldn’t be viewed as anti domestic food security.

At a time when there are economic growth concerns and a recession looms, trade is key for minimizing recessionary impacts.

This week, we hosted a webinar with Carlo Dade and John Law of the Canada West Foundation, on “Canada’s Prosperity through investment in trade infrastructure.”

I found several of the points made by Dade and Law to be quite concerning. The word that continues to rise to the surface is “competitiveness.”

While we rest on our laurels of investments made decades ago and our assumption that customers just love us, competitors around the world seem to be more focused on making sure customers are happy and investing in line with what’s needed for the future.

We must be competitive in the global trade arena. Quality is not the only parameter that we compete on. Our processes and systems of getting product from farm to port must always be under improvement. Some stakeholders have been investing, but is it happening strategically to prime the trade pump? Some think not.

As discussed in the webinar with Dade and Law, trade infrastructure investment has a much longer time horizon of economic return than the political returns of a new park or pedestrian bridge. Short political cycles derail progress, which requires a commitment to balance good policy with political goodwill.

This week we saw farm groups, processors, and the grain industry launch a campaign called “Canada’s Ready.” Stakeholders are putting pressure on the railways and the “export system” to provide improvements in transparency, clear action plans, and execution at the highest level.

At the end of the day, the customer should be our focus. As consumers, we get annoyed when a package is late or the line at Costco is longer than we think it should be. Our export customers are no different. Being a reliable trading partner isn’t just about the goods — it’s also about logistics.

There is no doubt in my mind that Canada will seize the moment and reconsider its priorities on trade.  If anything, a recession in 2023 and rising interest rates will force the political focus on to sound economic policy. For Canada, that must include trade.

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