India rejects extension on pulse imports in blow to Canada's largest market
Protein-packed lentils. (AP/Larry Crowe)
CALGARY -- India has rejected a long-standing exemption on pest treatment for peas and lentils in a blow to Canada's top export market for the crops.
Federal Agriculture Minister spokesman Guy Gallant confirmed the Indian government has not granted another six-month exemption that would have crops fumigated on arrival, rather than before export, as has been allowed for more than a decade.
The decision puts Canada's pulse exports to the country, worth $1.1-billion in 2016 and $1.5-billion in 2015, in jeopardy because the required treatment of methyl bromide doesn't work in the cold and also is being phased out because it's damaging to the ozone layer.
"India's our largest market for pulse crops for peas and lentils, so the importance of India can't be overstated," said Carl Potts, executive director of Saskatchewan Pulse Growers.
"From a farmers' perspective, ensuring we have ongoing, continual market access is a very important priority for us," he said.
Some shippers have already stopped accepting pulses for export to India over fears they will be rejected on arrival, since the current exemption expires at the end of March.
Gord Kurbis, director of market access and trade at Pulse Canada, said officials at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and their Indian counterparts are working on a potential solution that could see Canada's system of management practices and controls stand in for treatment before export.
But with the March deadline looming, he's worried there's not enough time for the scientists and regulators to approve the solution.
"The timing is definitely an issue," said Kurbis.
He said he's hoping officials will step in and keep the trade open until a longer-term agreement is reached.
"There needs to be awareness of this issue and intervention at the highest levels," said Kurbis.
Gallant said the federal government is still working that long-term solution, and that the issue will come up when Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay visits India next week.
The trade issue comes after exports of peas and lentils to India grew by 20 per cent a year between 2010 and 2015 to account for about a third of all pulse exports for Canada's 12,000 pulse farmers.
Pulse Canada says the fumigation treatment is not needed because the insects India is concerned about aren't in Canada, and the cold winters help reduce the threat of other pests.
The issue carries some parallels to Canada's dispute last year over canola exports to China, which had set restrictions on the amount of detritus allowed in shipments because of pest concerns.