Ontario Federation of Agriculture Commentary
By Keith Currie, OFA President
Over the past three weeks, Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) President Keith Currie travelled across five states with Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Jeff Leal. This trip served to confirm that Ontario and the U.S. share a valuable trade relationship, something both sides of the border agreed on. Leaders of Ontario’s agri-food sector accompanied Minister Leal in meetings with government and agri-food business leaders from Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania to discuss trade agreements, and further enhance the relationships between our jurisdictions and countries.
OFA’s president was pleased to accompany Minister Leal on the tour, representing Ontario farm businesses. The business relationship and trade agreements between Canada and the U.S., is vital to the economic success of both countries. Every meeting emphasized that greater transparency and ongoing discussions need to happen, and once again, both sides agreed.
Recent comments by U.S. President Trump threatening trade between Canada and the U.S., especially the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), has a lot of farmers and governments worried. The continuation of our free trade agreement is essential to our economy and livelihoods. In 2016, Ontario-U.S. two-way trade in agricultural products was valued at $28.8 billion.
Governments, industry and business leaders have engaged in some encouraging discussions with common themes. Both countries are displaying a desire and need to harmonize the trade rules on food safety to make it easier to move food across our borders. Harmonization of food safety rules is a number one concern for both countries. Ontario food processing representatives also accompanied Minister Leal on this engagement tour. The relationship between farmers as primary food producers and food processors is vital to a healthy food processing and value-added sector. Ontario is home to one of the most robust food processing and value-added sectors in North America and those food companies rely on a fair trade agreement too.
While touring the state of Michigan, Currie spent time with Michigan Farm Bureau colleagues. Meeting with their board of directors and key staff presented opportunities for discussions on respective agriculture industries, and how OFA and the Michigan Farm Bureau could align future lobbying efforts with our respective governments to push for a more fluid trade relationship between our countries. The visit also revealed opportunities to engage with other Great Lakes states farm organizations to build similar relationships between our organizations.
Ontario’s agriculture and agri-food industry is a key economic driver in the province. Maintaining free trade between Ontario and the U.S. is a vital part of ensuring the financial and business success of our industry. Minister Leal reminded us what an open border means to Ontario businesses – open borders ensure access to customers and allow movement of food products and ingredients back and forth for processing and consumer sales.
OFA was proud to be part of this engagement tour, providing insight and first-hand experiences to discussions with our U.S. counterparts. The creation of NAFTA resulted in an open border trade system that is working extremely well for everyone today. Ontario maintains solid trading relationships with our neighboring Great Lakes states and the rest of the U.S. OFA appreciated the hospitality shown and discussions that took place, and anticipate continued trade success and transparency in any future trade discussions and decisions.