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AGRI Committee Report

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Government Response to the Third Report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food

“Growing Forward”

Introduction

The Government of Canada is pleased to respond to the Third Report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, entitled Growing Forward.  The Government agrees with the spirit of the report and shares the Committee’s commitment to addressing the needs of the agricultural and agri-food sector to achieve sustainable profitability.

Many familiar challenges facing the sector persist, such as increased global competition, advances in technology, the emerging bioeconomy, and increasingly sophisticated demands of consumers and citizens.  There are also new and more complex challenges. The recent, rapid appreciation of the Canadian dollar and record high oil prices have placed tremendous competitive pressures on some parts of the sector. 

While there are challenges, Canada has the potential to benefit from this new context. New markets, better access to existing markets, and scientific advances offer a true sense of optimism that the sector can achieve a prosperous and profitable future.  Opportunities for agriculture are emerging in areas such as biofuels, pharmaceuticals, and industrial materials.  To excel, Canada must capitalize on its strengths, as well as its natural endowments: the skills and knowledge of its people; its significant research and development capacity; and its strong production and regulatory systems.  Segments of the agricultural sector are already competing successfully and are at the forefront of innovation, but we need to broaden that competitive success to the sector as a whole.

The Agricultural Policy Framework (APF), launched by federal-provincial-territorial (FPT) governments in 2003, expired in March 2008.  The development of the next generation of agricultural policy provides an opportunity to better position the sector to succeed.  On June 29, 2007, following extensive consultations with stakeholders, FPT Ministers of Agriculture came to an agreement in principle on Growing Forward.  It provides the basis from which FPT governments are negotiating a new policy framework and working with industry to develop new programs.  Ministers acknowledge that for the sector to remain competitive in the global marketplace, a market-driven approach and an ability to innovate and continuously adapt are required.

Growing Forward is an integrated policy framework, focused on the end outcomes of a sector that is competitive and innovative, contributes to society’s priorities and is proactive at managing risk.  Building on the best of the APF, Growing Forward moves beyond the previous framework to position the sector to deal with new realities.  Drawing the results of an extensive and ongoing consultation process, initiatives under consideration for Growing Forward would feature more investment in innovation, federal action on key regulatory priorities, measures to prevent and prepare for events like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), and one window service to provide more client focused program delivery.  Greater flexibility for provinces and territories to address key local priorities, while still contributing to national objectives, is a key priority for Growing Forward.

The Government has carefully reviewed the recommendations in the Standing Committee’s report, a number of which have been addressed by actions taken by the Government, and welcomes the opportunity to respond to each recommendation individually.

Recommendation 1
The Standing Committee recommends that the federal government increase funding for agricultural research and innovation activities in order to ensure the improved balance between public and private funding that is part of a strategy to provide an advantage to Canadian producers over their international competitors.

A key element of Growing Forward is a greater emphasis on innovation than in the APF with a  focus on the full continuum of innovation from strategic foresight to the development, commercialization and adoption of innovative products and processes along the supply chain.  During the Growing Forward consultation process, stakeholders expressed a desire for enhanced competitiveness and innovation programming, including initiatives designed to expand and focus science capacity, to translate new technology into commercial gain, and to anticipate and respond to market opportunities.

Growing Forward initiatives would aim to support Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s (AAFC) Science & Innovation Strategy, developed to optimize collective national investments by governments, academia and industry in facilities, equipment, skilled researchers and project funding in support of the agricultural, agri-food and agri-based products sector. 

AAFC has also launched programs to advance innovation and commercialization in the Canadian agri-food and bioeconomy sectors. These include the Agri-Opportunities Program, the Agricultural Bioproducts Innovation Program (ABIP) and the ecoABC Initiative.

ABIP is a multi-year program that seeks to mobilize Canada’s creative talent in academia and in the private and public sectors and to integrate resources to build greater research capacity in agricultural bioproducts and bioprocesses.  Through supporting networks and clusters, the program promotes research, development, technology transfer and commercialization activities in areas including biofuels, other forms of bioenergy, biochemicals and biopharmaceuticals.

The Agri-Opportunities Program is a five-year initiative that aims to accelerate the commercialization of new agricultural products, processes or services that are currently not produced or commercially available in Canada, and are ready to be introduced to the marketplace. Funding is provided to projects that can be expected to increase market opportunities for the Canadian agricultural industry across the value chain and generate demand for primary agricultural products.

EcoABC is a $200 million initiative that will provide repayable contributions of up to $25 million per project to help farmers overcome the challenges of raising the capital necessary for the construction or expansion of biofuel production facilities.

Recommendation 2
The Standing Committee recommends that federal–provincial/territorial government discussions on the future of environmental programs be conducted in a fast-track mode that would send a strong signal to Canadian farmers about the government’s commitment to develop an integrated approach for environmental programs in farming communities.

Environmental stewardship is a key priority for governments in Canada and a number of environmental programs are being proposed for Growing Forward.  FPT Ministers committed to involving farmers and other stakeholders in the design and development of new programs to ensure they meet the needs of the sector and those of farming communities. Growing Forward consultations indicated both strong support for the programming offered under the APF, and strong interest in future environmental programming.

The agri-environmental programs offered under the APF have proven to be an effective way to support environmental action on farms. The importance of maintaining momentum is key, and the Government is committed to ensuring a smooth transition between the APF and Growing Forward programs. Growing Forward initiatives under discussion with provinces and territories could focus on improving research capacity, improving availability of accurate and appropriate information on the impact of agriculture on the environment and the economy, and to target actions where the environmental footprint is greatest. Governments will continue discussions with stakeholders during the continuity year to further refine the future direction of environmental programs.  This will ensure that Growing Forward offers industry the correct range of environmental tools for sustainable resource use and to respond to market demand for environmentally sustainable practices and products.

Recommendation 3
The Standing Committee recommends that the government support agri-food industry initiatives that will bring a marketing perspective to the environmental component of Growing Forward. Further, the Committee recommends the development of sustainability benchmarks, supported by broad coalitions, including environmental organizations, to better position Canadian agri-food products and commodities in the international marketplace as being environmentally sustainable.

AAFC supports industry initiatives to measure and market the environmental attributes of Canadian agricultural products. The Advancing Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Program (ACAAF) is available to assist such industry initiatives.

Under the APF, Environment Canada led the National Agri-Environmental Standards Initiative (NAESI), a joint program with AAFC to develop science-based agri-environmental performance standards. The overarching goals of NAESI included improved stewardship by agricultural producers and increased domestic and international confidence that food from Canada is produced in an environmentally sound manner. NAESI significantly enhanced knowledge of the relationship between agriculture and the environment and will help form the basis for evaluating and promoting the sustainability of agricultural production in Canada.

FPT Governments will continue to work with Canadian businesses to position their products better in key markets through the Brand Canada strategy.  Efforts will be focused on targeted international markets where there are the most opportunities for success, while allowing the voluntary use of the brand domestically.

Additionally, Growing Forward could support industry efforts to enhance Canada's reputation as a producer of environmentally sustainable products. Initiatives discussed during consultations include industry-led Value-Chain Round Tables, agri-environmental indicators, the refinement of NAESI results, environmental risk assessment and on-farm action, and other initiatives under the framework.

Recommendation 4
The Standing Committee recommends that, during the upcoming transition year for non-BRM programs, a comprehensive regulatory review be conducted and that necessary reforms be implemented when non-BRM programs are fully integrated in Growing Forward.

The Government is committed to improving the responsiveness of the regulatory system to ensure the long-term competitiveness of the sector. There is general agreement between industry and Government that an effective regulatory system is essential to maintain consumer confidence and improve market access, but that the system also needs to be as efficient, transparent and predictable as possible.

Consultations with stakeholders and industry further highlighted their desire for governments to address regulatory issues such as the approval process for veterinary drugs, pesticides, novel foods and health claims. Governments recognize the importance of regulation under Growing Forward and are examining options for addressing the regulatory issues raised by stakeholders.

In addition, the 2007 implementation of the Cabinet Directive on Streamlining Regulation by all federal departments and agencies will be a key tool to help shape future regulations, and non-regulatory tools, to ensure their effectiveness and efficiency as well as reducing the overall regulatory burden to the industry.

Several other initiatives are also underway to help improve the regulatory environment. The agriculture and agri-food portfolio is undertaking a modernization of the grain sector regulatory structure, namely clarifying the mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission and related Canadian Food Inspection Agency programs under the Seeds Act. In addition, Canada’s Food and Consumer Safety Action Plan, announced by Prime Minister Harper on December 17, 2007, contains initiatives to help streamline and provide more consistent regulatory tools across all food sectors, better position Canada to meet current and future challenges, while protecting consumers and supporting Canada's food sector competitiveness.

Recommendation 5
The Standing Committee recommends that a strong government-industry partnership be promoted to ensure a successful implementation of new or improved non-BRM programs to be implemented in the coming year under the Growing Forward policy framework.

The Government agrees with the Committee that strong government-industry partnerships are critical to ensuring the successful implementation of non-BRM programming under Growing Forward.  FPT Ministers stated in the Growing Forward document of June 29, 2007, that both governments and industry have a role to play in contributing to a profitable agricultural, agri-food and agri-based products sector and that collaboration and partnership are key factors in success.

FPT governments have committed to consulting the sector at all stages of development of the Growing Forward framework.  This commitment was reaffirmed as a principle for the development of policy and programs under the new framework in the Growing Forward document agreed to by FPT Ministers.

In November 2006, FPT Ministers formally launched broad-based national consultations with stakeholders from across the value-chain and with the general public.  More recently, consultations have been held on potential Growing Forward programs and initiatives designed to position the sector to respond to new challenges and to seize market opportunities.  To date, over 3,000 stakeholders and members of the public have participated in these consultations.  The commitment to partnership will continue throughout the implementation of Growing Forward.

Recognizing the need to develop Growing Forward programming that works hand in hand with industry, the government has proposed initiatives that will enable us to partner with industry in key areas to enhance sector competitiveness.  These initiatives currently form the basis of consultations with stakeholders.  For example, Growing Forward could position the sector to implement industry-led food safety systems that respond to market demands and produce economic benefits.

Under Growing Forward, it is being proposed that the Canadian Agriculture and Food International (CAFI) Program continue and that efforts be made to strengthen its partnership with industry. First, CAFI would help industry develop strong market entry and development strategies to maximize returns and long-term commercial branding benefits.  CAFI would develop the capacity of new exporters by capitalizing on exporter services and programs offered by AAFC, other government departments and regional agencies, and provinces.  Finally, the program would support the marketing of Canadian products, including innovative products which leverage domestic R&D investments and increase international recognition for Canada as an innovator.

Industry-led partnerships will be a key focus of the science and innovation-related initiatives proposed under the Growing Forward policy framework. New implementation models for conducting and delivering science as part of industry-led clusters and related commercialization centres will ensure the transformation of scientific and technical knowledge into practical applications and new business opportunities.  Canada will gain a sustainable competitive lead over global competitors in key agri-food and agri-industrial areas where it has a comparative or absolute competitive advantage.

Finally, we are committed to responding to industry’s calls for easier and more user friendly access to programs and services.  The Government will continue working with the agricultural sector in transforming service delivery with a view to simplifying access to non-BRM programs.