Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and members of the standing committee.
My name is Jean-Marc Ruest, and I am senior vice-president of corporate affairs and general counsel for Richardson International Limited.
I thank you for inviting our company and me to give you our perspective on the current trade disruption of canola seed exports to China.
Richardson International is one of Canada's leading agribusinesses. Our company was founded in 1857, 10 years before Confederation, by the Richardson family, and it continues to be privately held by the fifth, and soon to be sixth. generation of the Richardson family.
We are involved in the sale of crop inputs to producers; in the handling and export of Canadian grains, oilseeds and pulses; the processing of canola and oats on a large-scale basis; and the manufacturing of canola oil products such as bottled canola oil, margarines and shortenings for the retail, food manufacturing and industrial services sectors.
We have a very long business history with China, dating back over 100 years. We were among the very first Canadian companies to export grain to China, and have developed a deep and meaningful relationship with our Chinese customers.
While our relationship with China has grown over a century, the importance of the Chinese market to Canadian grain, oilseeds and pulse exports has become evident over the last several years.
In 2018 the grain sector represented just under 30% of all goods sold to China by Canada. Of the top 25 products exported to China, seven grain and oilseed products appear on the list, totalling $4.8 billion annually. Canola seed was, of course, the single-largest export from Canada to China in 2018, at $2.72 billion. Canola products alone represented just over 15% of all of Canada's exports to China.
If we look at the top five products sent to China last year—which include canola seed, wood pulp, canola oil, soybeans and lumber—grains and oilseeds accounted for just over 60% of the value of those cumulative exports.
To say that canola is important to Canada's trading relationship with China would be a gross understatement. Canola, and indeed the entire grains and oilseeds complex, is the foundation of Canada's trading relationship with China.
As you are now aware, China began raising allegations over the last few months that Canadian canola shipments, including those from Richardson, were non-compliant with Chinese phytosanitary requirements due to the alleged presence of prohibited weed seeds and fungal disease.
Our internal testing and testing at the time of loading and thereafter, along with testing conducted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency at the time of loading, and subsequent to the complaints, was unable to detect a presence of the alleged weed seeds or disease, and in fact several of the weed seeds alleged to have been in our shipments have not been found in any Canadian grain shipments from western Canada over the past decade.
Notwithstanding these results, China chose to abruptly suspend our company's licence to export canola seed on March 1, based on those allegations. You can appreciate that such a course of action was alarming and upsetting, given Richardson's long-standing relationship with China, and the importance of the Chinese market for Canadian grain and oilseed exports.
We were particularly upset by the fact that Richardson was singled out. Notwithstanding the fact that the allegations of non-compliance had been raised against a number of Canadian exporters, the fact that a single commodity, namely, Canadian canola, has been targeted, and individual Canadian exporters are singled out by the Chinese government in response to an industry-wide issue is troubling. These are issues that our government must immediately address.
While we understand and agree that technical discussions between the regulatory subject matter experts must be allowed to occur to either address or dispel these alleged quality issues, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of expediting this process. The current state of uncertainty is creating significant distress among all industry stakeholders, and in particular producers who are currently making spring seeding decisions. The decisions they are currently required to make are critically important to their success or failure in 2019 in terms of their crop production and cash flows.
Again, getting to the bottom of the technical allegations is absolutely urgent and should occur within weeks, not months, and certainly not years, for both the Canadian industry and even for our Chinese customers, who have reasonably come to rely on the quality of our products and our consistently positive business relations.
In the case of exporters like Richardson, if the current disruption continues over the longer term, then we'll have no choice but to find other markets for Canadian canola seed. However, doing so will be no easy task and can only occur over a longer period of time given the magnitude of the Chinese market.
This past year, China accounted for over 30% of all Canadian grain and oilseed exports, having grown from just 20% in prior years. While we are confident that we can eventually find other markets, it will not be a painless exercise.
As it develops its response plan, the Government of Canada should take note that China is not the only country where Canada's grain and oilseed sector has experienced significant market access problems. The closure of the pea and lentil market to India and the durum wheat market to Italy have also been difficult and costly challenges for our industry in the recent past. Possible trade disruptions in several other countries and the spectre of non risk-based regulation in the European Union have formed a veritable cocktail of trade disruption for Canada's grain industry.
The Government of Canada must become more involved, creative and aggressive in defending the grain and oilseed sectors' interests from technical barriers of trade in our export markets. lt should, in fact, be the number one concern of our government for the majority of our bilateral trading relationships where the grain sector figures prominently.
ln closing, we'd like to thank the government and its officials for their stated commitment to finding a solution to the current challenge. Given the significance of this issue and the consequences that will flow to our industry and the entire Canadian economy, we trust that the Government of Canada will commit all available resources and expertise to its resolution. ln that respect, Richardson International will at all times be ready, willing and able lend its assistance as required.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members, for the opportunity.
I will be happy to answer questions you may have at the relevant time.