U.S. agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue delivered his keynote speech to the United Fresh Produce Association on June 26 in Chicago. He talked about trade, farm labour, food safety regulations and boosting produce consumption. He also held his position to support President Donald Trump’s administration’s efforts to help fruit and vegetable growers and the issues within the sector.
The tone of his speech seemed aptly directed towards the U.S. majority in attendance, but Canadians perceived its nature as somewhat divisive. Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers’ general manager Joe Sbrocchi says there was a perception of an ‘us versus them’ attitude, which he felt was disconcerting since Canada and the U.S. have always considered one another as allies – 70 per cent of Ontario’s greenhouse produce is exported to the U.S.
“If that tone carries on that would be unfortunate for our sector, since we ship so much to the U.S.,” Sbrocchi says.
The Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit Convention is the next large fresh produce show in October and he hopes things will get solved prior to that.
“I think everyone is really wanting to get NAFTA done,” says Sbrocchi. “I would hate to think of having to walk away from something that has been in place for almost 25 years. What are they moving towards the old Canada U.S. free trade agreement? Is it to something new that’s yet to be defined? It’s better to tweak what we have than to go and dismantle it and put things back together again.”
Perdue’s tone was likely tailored towards his American audience but it follows the posturing and positioning of the U.S. government.
“I don’t think that the Canadian negotiators are getting worn down by it in fact, I think they actually expect it,” Sbrocci continues. “I have a lot of faith in them. They deeply care and they want to bring this to a resolution, but an appropriate one.”
In his speech, Perdue remarked on creating a single solution, though both parties still differ on what that should be.
“I challenge you,” said Perdue “especially your retail and wholesale institutional buyers, to follow our example. Get together and come up with a single integrated set of regulations and requirements. Let’s give our producers a single set of rules and requirements to help in food safety.”