Let me restart here.
Of course we've seen rapid changes in market conditions, competitive pressures, price and input cost pressure squeezing the margins of several commodities, challenges and opportunities in international trade policies, increasing awareness and sensitivity of food safety issues, and increasingly environmentally aware consumers. These factors are all having an impact on how we respond to the challenges and opportunities facing our Canadian producers.
You know, one of the great things about this job is that it gives me a chance to sit down with farmers from coast to coast to coast, and I've been able to do that over the last short time. I can say we're getting some great comments from people that we're on the right track on some of these key issues. Things are getting done, and if you want to see it in black and white, you have the evidence right here in front of you in those main estimates. I think it goes right back to the fact that we have not wavered from the bedrock principle that we established from day one, and that is of course “farmers first”. If the farm gate is not strong and viable and sustainable, then none of the rest matters or can continue. It's a simple formula and it works. We're listening to farmers, we're acting on what we're hearing, and we're delivering real results.
The livestock sector told us it needed help to get through a rough patch, and we delivered. Changes to the advance payments program was by far the biggest ask by the sector, and we delivered in record time, thanks to the help of you in the opposition parties. Changes to the act made emergency cash advances of up to $400,000 per farm available for our livestock producers. Of that $400,000, the first $100,000 is interest-free. We also dealt with issues around security requirements to maintain the security for the banking sector. We took other actions to speed up cash flow to the industry, including fast AgriInvest payments, targeted advance payments, and the cull breeding swine program, which has already met more than half the target.
Farmers asked us to get older cattle moving south again, and we have done that, Mr. Chair, first through rule 2. Then when we were in Washington in March we got the good news that Mexico would provide OIE-consistent access to all breeding cattle—we've seen the first shipments move south—and further, that Canadian breeding cattle could be shipped through the U.S. to Mexico. It's working out very well.
I'm proud of how this government has delivered, ensuring greater market access for Canadian beef. I'm proud of the professional manner in which the agriculture and agri-food department and CFIA are working together and getting things done for our producers. We're getting great comments back.
Last November, the CFIA worked with our livestock industry to head off the enhanced testing for E. coli that was demanded by the United States. We got that turned around. We're making gains for livestock farmers in the red meat sector, but we won't stop there. We need to restore full access to all cattle and beef with all our trading partners.
We will continue to vigorously oppose the current version of mandatory country-of-origin labelling. Of course, that's expedited with the passage of the Farm Bill yesterday. I've raised that issue on several occasions with Secretary of Agriculture Schafer and also his predecessor. The U.S. has to make sure COOL doesn't choke the industry on both sides of the border with unnecessary segregation costs and stacks of mandatory paperwork that serve only to thicken the border, and of course that thickens it both ways. The version of COOL that is implemented must be trade-compliant under NAFTA, or as we have advised the U.S. and have continued to say, we will initiate a NAFTA panel.
Farmers told us they wanted more opportunities in the biofuel sector, and we will deliver that through Bill C-33 amendments, ecoABC, and other initiatives. Our approach to biofuels is thoughtful and reasonable—I'm sure we'll have that discussion here today—balancing the need to ensure we address the needs of the environment with the need for continued food production in this country. We need to put this issue in perspective, however. Right now, to meet our proposed mandates for biofuels would require only about 5% of our production capabilities, less than the variables caused by weather systems. That leaves 95% dedicated to our high-quality food production. We've also invested $500 million towards the next generation of biofuels using cellulosic technology.
We're boosting our food aid by $50 million, maintaining our position as the second-largest contributor to the world aid food programs. Our biofuels strategy is the right plan for our rural communities, our producers, and our environment.
Farmers told us they need access to new and better crops. We're delivering through our support of science and innovation. We've moved quickly to get rid of KVD and that's going to mean new wheat varieties will get introduced here and commercialized here in Canada, instead of the United States.
Farmers asked for workable, bankable business risk management programs for Canadian farmers, and we delivered with the new business risk management suite, thanks in large part to great cooperation with the provinces, which helped us speed up the Kickstart and cost of production payments.
Farmers asked us for a transition period to Growing Forward, to ensure we developed the right programs, and we did that, negotiating the continuity year with the provinces and territories.
I truly believe the progress we have made on this is directly due to the respectful relationship we have built with the provinces and territories, and a solid consultative process including industry.
Farmers asked us for marketing choice in barley, and we're working hard to achieve that through Bill C-46.
We're also working on new guidelines for “Product of Canada” labelling on foods that will give Canadian consumers clear labelling information to make their informed choices. We'll give Canadian farmers and processors the credit they deserve with proper labelling on the products.
I know this committee has done a lot of legwork on this issue, and I certainly look forward to your report.
We also tabled legislation to overhaul food and product safety laws. This will not only boost confidence amongst our consumers at home that our product safety standards are second to none, it will also make Canadian agrifood products more competitive on that global market for consumers.
Farmers asked us to approach international trade with both solid offensive and defensive positions. At the World Trade Organization agricultural negotiations, we are working hard to open new markets and level the international playing field for our producers and processors. These efforts are complemented by our very active regional and bilateral negotiations agenda, where we are making real headway through our exporters.
This government continues its strong support for supply management. At the WTO agricultural negotiations, we are firmly defending the interests of our supply managed sectors.
We have demonstrated our support for supply management through other concrete actions as well. For example, we have taken action under GATT article 28 to limit the imports of low-duty milk protein concentrates through tariff rate quotas.
We are also taking action to finalize the operational section of the WTO special safeguards for supply managed goods, and we've also implemented cheese compositional standards.
Clearly Canadian farmers are succeeding in world markets. Last year Canada's overall agrifood trade hit a record $31.6 billion, an increase of almost 13% over the same period in 2006. Those market realities are reflected in our main estimates here today.
Here at home we have launched a full-court press to get the Growing Forward framework in place at our federal-provincial-territorial meeting this July. I'd like to see as many of the new programs announced as soon as possible after that.
We're constantly talking with farmers during this process because we want to get farmers the right tools for the job ahead.
Growing Forward is more than a federal-provincial-territorial agreement. It's the result of a lot of hard work and consultation with farmers, farm organizations, and others throughout the sector. Growing Forward is already delivering for farmers. It fully supports this government's strong competitiveness and innovation agenda.
Growing Forward aims to deliver important innovations, new market opportunities, provincial flexibility and affordability, improved service standards with streamlined regulations, and a competitive sector that can adjust to the changing global marketplace. Growing Forward will make the whole agricultural value chain stronger from field to port. Growing Forward is the right response to the realities and challenges facing the agricultural sector today.
Mr. Chair, with that snapshot of where we've been and where we're going, I'd be happy to open the floor to questions.