It’s ‘only’ taken 20 years to approve beef-import levy

Recently, federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz announced that the Canadian beef industry would benefit from a recently proclaimed levy

Recently, federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz announced that the Canadian beef industry would benefit from a recently proclaimed levy on beef imports into Canada.

He noted that the levy will result in a more equitable relationship with our trading partners.

Really — it’s only taken 20 years to approve — how equitable is that.

At a projected $800,000 of levy income per year, the industry has lost $16 million over that 20-year period of delay — our competitors put those millions in their pockets.

It should be noted the levy hasn’t yet been implemented, being the actual collection process has to be finalized. If the approval process is any example, that could be a long time from now, and the industry can expect to lose another couple of million. But I guess in this case, beggars can’t protest too much.

The levy legislation falls under the Farm Products Council of Canada (FPCC) whose chairman Laurent Pellerin blithely stated, “The money is there to be collected, I never understood why people weren’t using it.”

For those of us who were around 20 years ago and watched the process deal with endless bureaucratic hurdles imposed by the same organization that Pellerin now chairs, such statements are almost pathetic, if they weren’t so sad. Clearly, the chairman has no awareness of the history of this levy and probably his own organization’s byzantine regulations.

The reality is that virtually every commodity group that has looked at the idea of levying imports through the FPCC has given up when confronted with the wall of bureaucratic hoops and restrictions.

Only the cattle industry has persevered for the past 20 years, mostly through the dogged determination of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and the bottomless patience of Rob McNabb, their operations manager. It has to be the height of bureaucratic insanity that it takes 20 years to approve and implement what should be a straightforward application.

It’s a shameful process, particularly in light of the fact that are competitors seem to be able to implement such levies in a tenth of the time. If the FPCC had an any conscious, they should compensate the industry for some of the millions that were lost to this shameful delay.

In looking back when the original FPCC legislation was amended to allow for such an import levy, one ponders at the diabolical process bureaucrats invented to in effect make it all but impossible for this levy to be approved.

For bureaucrats, this must have been some sort of triumph — yes you can, but no you won’t rules. Much of it boils down to that boy scout trade attitude that Canadian trade officials have — the fear of what our trading partners might do or even think.

I fully suspect that when this legislation was created, our own Canadian officials probably dealt more with foreign trade officials and their opinions than with what was right for the Canadian ag industry.

In another life, I worked for a livestock organization and had the opportunity to discuss this sort of import levy with officials from livestock and meat export agencies in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand.

As a matter of principle, they were opposed to any levy or tariff on their products, but in practicality they accepted the principle of reciprocity — being they in most cases applied levies and tariffs to livestock and meat products exported to their countries from Canada. However, most of those groups were wise to the powers of lobbying senior civil servants in the federal government and knew that there were different ways to skin a cat.

I expect that encouraging those folks to create byzantine rules that would thwart and delay levy approval was a realistic goal for our competitors — after all, it saved them $16 million so far.

One might hope that the FPCC would have learned something from the excruciating process and delay that they put the cattle industry through and perhaps make some amendments to speed up the process.

But, alas, miracles or common sense rarely occur within the machinations of the federal bureaucratic mindset. The reality is the process does not need to be so complicated with approvals from multiple layers of government and organizations.

If a levy is applied to a Canadian product, than an imported product should pay the same levy — it’s a simple concept that seems to evade our federal officials.

— Ahead of the Heard

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