Mr. Chair and honourable members, on behalf of the Canadian Seed Trade Association, CSTA, I would like to thank the committee for your invitation to discuss our perspective on non-tariff trade barriers in relation to free trade agreements.
Before I offer comments, I want to quickly frame the context in which I will be offering my remarks by giving you a high-level overview of CSTA and our membership. CSTA is a not-for-profit, non-partisan trade association and the national voice of the seed industry. We bring together more than 130 companies engaged in all aspects of seed from research, development, and plant breeding to production, processing, marketing, distribution, and sales, both domestically and internationally.
CSTA members serve the needs of their farmer customers by developing seed produced through various production methods. These include organic, conventional, and biotechnology, and they range from small family-owned companies to large multinational firms. Our members work with over 50 different crop kinds that range from corn, soybeans, and canola to wheat, barley, forage and grasses, and vegetable and garden seed.
Seed is the start of it all, the first link in the agriculture value chain, an industry that is vital to the economic well-being of Canadians. The seed industry contributes close to $6 billion to the Canadian economy, employs more than 57,000 Canadians, and exports close to half a billion dollars a year.
Our members are united in their support of our mandate and mission statement, which is to foster seed industry innovation and trade. Given our mandate, CSTA is strongly supportive of the ongoing efforts of the Canadian government to increase market opportunities by pursuing free trade agreements while also addressing tariff and non-tariff trade barriers. Our first strategic priority is the unrestricted trade of seed around the world.
Seed generally trades with zero or very low tariffs, and many countries don't even apply or bind any tariffs on seed for sowing. While this is an advantage for our commodity type, we do experience a number of issues around non-tariff trade barriers.
With the remainder of my time, I will touch on some of the trade barriers we face and offer our perspective on current and future free trade deals. However, before I begin, I want to say that the Canadian industry is extremely well served by the negotiators and the market access secretariat of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. They have world-class people working for them day in and day out to grow markets for industry.
Canada is also very well served by our regulators. The two that most impact my members are the the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency. CFIA plays a leadership role at the International Plant Protection Convention, and PMRA at Codex.
I had the pleasure of witnessing CFIA' s leadership first-hand while attending the recent IPPC meetings in Incheon, Korea where, after a number of years and different iterations, the 183 contracting member countries of the IPPC adopted an international standard for phytosanitary measures for seed that seeks to harmonize the import, export, and re-export of seed. The IPPC is overseen by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. There is now an 18-month goal implementation period.
One of the biggest non-tariff trade barriers faced by our industry is sanitary and phytosanitary measures, or SPS. Our members, as I mentioned, cover 50 different crop kinds and export to more than 70 different countries annually. It can be very complicated for members to navigate the multitude of trading rules, and they often face issues where SPS rules make exporting a real challenge. I'll give you a few examples.
On treatments, countries may require that shipments of seed be treated in a certain manner, such as through fumigation, in order to allow entry in the importing country, but the treatment method the importing country prescribes is not approved in Canada. Some countries may also require seed be treated with a certain insecticide or fungicide that also may not be registered in Canada, in a lot of cases for good reasons. The real-life example is Mexico's recent WTO notification.
Regarding pests, certain pests are viewed at a different threat level by different countries. Documentation, phytosanitary certificates, treatments, and field inspections are sometimes required for pests that are not present in Canada, such as a tropical insect. It's very difficult for our regulators when we're dealing with an issue and we don't have a protocol to conduct an inspection because that pest is not found in Canada.
Seed as a pathway is the last SPS I'll touch on. Most countries view seed as a low phytosanitary risk due to the rigorous conditioning and controls in place, and therefore our companies aren't subjected to overly burdensome import requirements. However, some countries view seed as a high risk and may require tests to be carried out using protocols not used or recognized in Canada as legitimate. Mexico is also an example of where they view seed as a high risk as opposed to the U.S. and most of our other trading partners.
Another one that I know you’ve heard about so far is on biotechnology. Asynchronous approvals and zero tolerances for products of biotechnology continue to be an issue. Canadian farmers are early adopters of new technologies that improve productivity, provide health and environmental solutions, and enhance competitiveness. Canadian farmers have embraced modern biotechnology in their cropping systems, and as a result, the majority of acres planted in corn, canola, and soybeans in Canada are products of biotechnology. They contain biotech improvements, often called “traits”.
These products have received full approval for food, feed, and environmental release through Canada's very detailed and stringent science- and risk-based regulatory assessment processes, both at Health Canada and CFIA. While Canadian developers are committed to seeking approvals for their innovations in important export markets as part of their commercialization plans, some countries simply do not have effective, functioning regulatory processes, and some have established a zero tolerance policy for any genetically modified product that their own regulatory system has not approved. Seed for sowing in the EU is a good example of this.
The impact on the seed industry has been significant, as countries are requiring legal declarations that there is zero presence of genetically modified product in seed shipments. Zero is not possible to achieve, and that has impacted our members. The CSTA believes that approval processes for products of modern biotech; mutual recognition of assessments and approvals; and a science-based, low-level presence policy for seed should be a part of Canada's negotiating position for all trade agreements.
Lastly, I’ll just touch on some free trade deals. CSTA was and continues to be a strong proponent of the TPP, and testified to that support in June 2016. It would have allowed preferential access to nearly 80% of our seed export markets. We would like to strongly urge the Canadian government to continue to pursue multilateral discussions with the remaining TPP partners and to also consider using agreed-upon text and provisions included in the TPP in future trade agreements.
CSTA is a strong proponent of science-based decision-making, and supports the inclusion of provisions in free trade agreements that would commit signatory countries to science, transparency, and incorporating the concept of equivalence.
The TPP also contains provisions that require countries to make their science-based approval processes for new biotechnology traits more transparent, thereby providing a greater sense of predictability and encouraging investment in innovation here in Canada. We would also support provisions around low-level presence being included in all future agreements. The TPP was the first-ever trade deal to contain such a provision. The provisions essentially establish a process to address instances where a low-level presence occurs, which will reduce trade disruptions and, again, increase transparency.
CSTA was pleased to see CETA receive royal assent, but we still have concerns with the EU's hazard-based evaluation system, as well as the very slow and unpredictable approval process for products of biotechnology. It’s rectifying hazard versus risk.
CSTA would also like to encourage the government to continue to consult and then negotiate a trade agreement with China. As other witnesses to this study have attested to already, there have been and will continue to be significant trade issues with China related to SPS and biotech approvals.
Lastly, it is our hope that the Regulatory Cooperation Council between Canada and the United States will continue to be an active entity regardless of the NAFTA renegotiations. Our industry saw real value in being able to attend the RCC meetings, in particular the PMRA-EPA interface and the CFIA-APHIS interface meetings.
In conclusion, Canada is a trading nation and agriculture is a global industry. As such, bilateral or multilateral agreements that seek to establish rules-based trade among major export markets are extremely important to the Canadian seed industry. The commercial world seed market is assessed to be approximately $45 billion U.S. a year, based on 2013 numbers. This is a global market where Canada has a lot more room to grow and expand our market share. Free trade agreements are also crucial for Canada's burgeoning non-traditional exports for seed, such as variety and germplasm exchange agreements, multinational R and D, contractual agreements for production of seed for export and import, marketing new varieties imported into Canada, and marketing new varieties abroad.
CSTA members, their farmer customers, and Canadians will benefit from reductions in tariff and non-tariff trade barriers on seed exports, and will see many positive gains from access to new markets and agricultural innovations.
We would like to thank the committee for undertaking this important study, and we welcome any question that you have today.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.