On behalf of Cereals Canada, I want to thank the committee for the invitation to appear before you today. It's not usual for a committee to be holding hearings like these when Parliament is not sitting, and it's definitely not usual for a committee to be holding marathon sessions such as you have been holding. We recognize this and thank you for the high priority you are placing on this legislation. It is absolutely critical for Canada's agriculture sector.
As I mentioned, Cereals Canada is a national value chain organization. Our membership comprises three pillars: farmers, shippers, and processors in crop development and seed companies. Our board has representation from all three of these groups. All parts of the value chain look for transportation reform as a key requirement for the success of our sector.
Canada exports more than 20 million tonnes of cereal grains every year, worth about $10 billion. Virtually all of this grain moves to export position by rail. The profitability of every part of the Canadian agriculture value chain depends on the critical rail link to our markets.
Agriculture has a strong growth potential. The Barton report indicated that Canada has the potential to become the world's second-largest agriculture and agri-food exporter in just a few short years. The report set a target of $75 billion in exports in 2025. This is up from $55 billion in 2015. Modernized transportation legislation is critical if Canada is to meet this growing demand and maintain our reputation as a reliable supplier.
Agriculture is not just about exports. The industry employs Canadians. One in eight jobs in Canada depends on agriculture. Our ability to meet these growth targets and our ability to increase the number of Canadians employed by the sector depend upon moving production to market in a timely manner. I want to stress this next point: “timely manner” must be defined by the international marketplace. We will not achieve these goals if transportation providers limit our ability to satisfy world demand.
These are the implications of Bill C-49, which is before you today. The first message I want to deliver on Bill C-49 is to quickly return this bill to the House for third reading. The bill will help introduce better commercial accountability into the grain transportation system, it will help improve grain-movement planning, and it will improve transparency and reporting.
I do not want to leave the impression that the grain sector has received all that it requested in this bill. There are provisions that the industry had requested: continuation of the extended interswitching provisions from the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act is an example of provisions that have not been brought into the legislation. However, no piece of legislation is perfect, and we believe that the bill should proceed. Cereals Canada has some suggestions for technical amendments to Bill C-49, which are outlined in detail at the end of the written brief you have received.
I want to touch briefly on why we're here and why we have the need for legislation.
Flaws in the grain handling and transportation system were highlighted in 2013 and 2014 when the system suffered a significant breakdown. The systemic failure impacted the entire value chain and damaged Canada's brand and reputation as a reliable supplier of agriculture products. This resulted in lost sales and it resulted in decreases in price. The crisis cost farmers, grain-handling firms, exporters, Canadian value-added processing, and ultimately the Canadian economy.
This was not the first time the transportation system failed one of Canada's largest sectors. This is clearly demonstrated by the multiple past reviews and commissions, such as the studies conducted by the late Justice Estey and by Arthur Kroeger and the report from the senior executive officers, and the list goes on. It is a long list of reports on grain transportation. History shows that if the underlying structural issues are not addressed, transportation failures will recur. Canadian agriculture and the Canadian economy cannot afford to let this happen again.
Railway monopolistic power is a key reason the grain transportation environment does not function to maximize the profitability of the entire value chain. Virtually all shippers are served by one carrier and are subject to monopolistic pricing and service strategies. Therefore, the government has a critical role to play in establishing a regulatory structure that strikes a measured and appropriate competitive balance.
I stress the word competitive. System reform will be successful only if the legislated and regulatory structure for grain transportation is adjusted so that it mimics the conditions of a competitive environment.
It is worth noting that the record size of the 2013 crop, over 70 million tonnes in western Canada, is often cited by the critics of reform as the cause of the breakdown in 2013 and 2014. However, this level of production is not an anomaly. Rather, it is the new normal. Grain production in Canada continues to grow, as does world demand.
This year, 2017, I'm sure many of you have heard—and Ms. Block is in the affected part of the province—there was a drought in many parts of Saskatchewan, yet western Canada is still going to produce one of the largest crops we have ever seen. We expect it to be between 63 million and 65 million tonnes. We have to be able to meet growing demand with growing supply.
I'm not going to go into the details of our amendments; you have them. But in summary, Bill C-49 will move us towards a more accountable and reliable grain-handling and transportation system. This is good news for everybody involved, including our customers.
The grain, oilseed, and special crops industries have been united in their call for measures that will help ensure accountability in the performance of the railways. Bill C-49 will help correct the imbalance in market power between the railways and captive shippers.
The legislation includes the following key positive elements: tools that will allow shippers to hold railways financially accountable for their service performance; improved processes for the Canadian Transportation Agency if issues do arise; clarification of the railway responsibility in the Canada Transportation Act by better defining “adequate and suitable” service; and increased requirements for reporting and railway contingency planning.
If passed, Bill C-49 will help balance railway market power and will help mimic what would happen if we had open competition. This is good economic and public policy.
While the most important part of the railway legislation is the increase in railway accountability, all of these provisions are important. Improving CTA processes is important to ensure that problems are caught and addressed before they snowball into major failures. Together with clarification of the meaning of “adequate and suitable”, this will help ensure that the Canadian transportation system meets the expectations of our customers both within Canada and internationally.
No piece of legislation is perfect, and Bill C-49 is no exception. Cereals Canada has presented a number of technical amendments. The adoption of these amendments should not significantly delay the passage of the bill, and the adoption of these amendments will significantly improve the transparency of the legislation. These are the first four amendments in our brief. They will also help align North American regulations between Canada and the U.S.
The amendments will also help to improve operational planning, as stated in the fifth amendment in our brief. It will also help give improved access to competitive tools to help improve the imbalance in market power. These are the last three amendments.
I welcome any of your questions on my verbal remarks or on the more detailed brief that has been circulated.