by SUSAN MANN
Imagine having faster access to veterinary drugs already approved for use in the United States or being able to use electronic export certificates to get your shipment of hogs over the border.
Those are just two changes coming down the pipe as Canadian and American government officials signed two action plans Wednesday in Washington, D.C. designed to speed up legitimate travel, improve security in North American and align regulatory approaches between the two countries.
Farm groups approve of the government’s plans. Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Ron Bonnett says the plans contain a number of measures they’ve been requesting for several years, including harmonizing the approval mechanisms for herbicides and pesticides.
Farm groups have been working with the government agency that regulates products, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, “to get the acceptance of testing so that Canadian producers have access to the same products at the same time as our American competitors,” he says. And now “there’s a real push to move that agenda ahead.”
The same measure would be implemented for veterinary drugs giving Canadian farmers access to products at the same time as American farmers. For Canadian farmers, that would result in improved competitiveness.
Bonnett says the governments have created working groups with a two-year timeframe to develop the process for achieving harmonization on pesticides and veterinary drugs. “It’s about making sure that you’ve got strong, science-based approval systems in place but there’s a recognition of the testing that’s been done so it doesn’t have to all be duplicated.”
Farmers may see reduced prices for products once approvals are streamlined because “you don’t have all these huge regulatory costs to get a product approved for the Canadian market,” he says, noting its common for companies to spend millions just to go through the separate Canadian regulatory process. And some firms don’t bother because the market here is too small.
Critics may question if Canada is downgrading its standards but Bonnett says “we’re upgrading our standards to make sure we’re all using the basic science to ensure these products get on the market.”
The idea of giving preferred shipper status to small and medium-sized businesses to speed their way through the border is a positive development. “Anything that can smooth out that border flow” will help farmers, he says.
Gary Stordy, Canadian Pork Council public relations manager, says the industry supports cooperative activities that would help to eliminate or reduce unnecessary regulatory divergences between Canada and the U.S.
The council and the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association highlighted the importance of regulatory cooperation early in the process and the farm groups’ four suggestions are part of the action plans. They are: implementing electronic export certificates for meat and live animals crossing the border; harmonizing the approval process for veterinary drugs; mutually recognizing each country’s zoning systems; and veterinary equivalency.
Stordy says if the four measures they suggested are implemented “it will make a difference for Canadian producers.” For example, the use of electronic export certificates would relieve the cumbersome process of using paperwork and help with the flow of traffic. “It’s a more modern approach to trade.”
Food & Consumer Products Canada, an industry group representing companies that manufacture food, beverages and consumer goods, also approves of the action plans. In particular, the association commended the government for taking steps to strategically align food safety approaches and inspections between the two countries and launch a new pilot program that will allow companies with low-risk products and strong compliance standards to move their goods across the border more efficiently.
The governments’ plan “is about strategically aligning regulations where it makes the most sense for Canadians and maintaining the world-renowned safety and quality of our products,” it says in the association’s press release.
Almost $100 million worth of agriculture and agri-food products move across the border between Canada and the U.S. daily.
Ann Slater, National Farmers Union Ontario branch coordinator, says not all farmers are applauding the plans. Some are wondering if they will result in opening up trade for products that could be produced here and lead to more imports whereas they’d rather have the focus on domestic food production.
What about privacy concerns? The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has expressed concerns that the action plans will have major implications for immigrants to Canada and travellers to other parts of the world. The plans have broad measures for information sharing, biographical and biometric data collection and aims to remove all impediments to information sharing between law enforcement agencies. There are also plans to profile travellers on all international fights to Canada to assess their risk profile and immigration status.
The association urged the government to be cautious and not implement the action plans before the statement of privacy principles is released. The statement, part of the action plans, is to address key areas of safekeeping and oversight and will be released May 2012.
The federal government’s press release says the two action plans respect the sovereignty of both countries and specify they will work together to promote the principles of human rights, privacy and civil liberty. BF