Growing demand for imported lentils in India could be a boon for Canadian farmers as the two countries continue trade talks.
In late July, India issued a notice to extend the suspension of a tariff on imported lentils until spring 2023 – an opening for major pulse growers like Canada after years of high and fluctuating tariffs.
“I’m optimistic that it’s a good sign that they’re starting to come and they’ll be looking for our good quality Canadian pulses,” said pulse grower Kevin Auch, who is also president of the advocacy group. industry Pulse Canada. .
A type of legume, legumes are edible dried seeds, including lentils, chickpeas, dried peas, and dried beans.
Growers like Auch, who farms near Lethbridge, Alberta, have added legumes to their crop rotations because of their ability to naturally pull nitrogen into the soil.
About 20% of the plants in Auch are legumes, mainly yellow peas. With the upcoming harvest forecast to be average to above average, the news from India is positive, he said.
For nearly 20 years, India has been Canada’s biggest customer for lentils and other pulses, said Mac Ross, director of market access and trade policy at Pulse Canada.
Canada exports more than 80% of the pulses it grows, and for a time more than half of the pulses India imported came from Canada, Ross said.
But India is also the largest producer of pulses in the world. In 2017, the country began imposing restrictive tariffs on imported pulses, with the aim of increasing self-sufficiency and improving the incomes of its own farmers.
What India was trying to do was understandable, Ross said, but it created an abrupt and unpredictable situation for the Canadian pulse industry.
India often tries to balance affordable prices for its consumers with good prices for its farmers. Meanwhile, Canada, as a trading partner, is seeking more predictability and long-term guidance on how India’s trade policy will work in the long term, Ross explained.
Since India started imposing tariffs, China has become a bigger customer for Canadian pulses. But Pulse Canada is pleased to see the ongoing suspension of India’s lentil tariff, as well as the progress of broader trade negotiations between India and Canada, Ross said.
The resumption of Canada-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations is an important opportunity to advance food security in both countries, said a spokesperson for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the federal department responsible for agriculture, to CBC News in an email.
“Our government is confident that it will be able to reach an agreement with India, which would be a major breakthrough for the Canadian economy and our agriculture and agri-food sector,” the spokesperson said.
Global food crisis
Negotiations with Canada are a reciprocal opportunity for India, said Kristen Hopewell, an economist at the University of British Columbia’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs.
Already struggling with significant poverty, India has become increasingly active in negotiating free trade agreements with many countries, not just Canada, said Hopewell, who also holds the chair of Canada’s research in global politics.
“We’re in the middle of a global food crisis right now,” she said. “There has been a sharp spike in global food prices and this threatens to dramatically increase the number of people living in poverty and the number of hungry people around the world.”
Opening more trade with Canada could help India fight inflation and food insecurity, and reciprocal trade could provide more opportunities for Indian farmers, she said.
“This is certainly an important sensibility in any trade negotiation with India on agriculture. But I think there are certainly some aspects of the trade relationship where there are opportunities for mutual gains,” said Hopewell.
Calls for an Indo-Pacific office
Faced with supply chain issues and concerns about protectionism, Canadian pulse growers are looking for ways to access new markets in the Indo-Pacific region, not just India.
Pulse Canada has joined with other major agricultural groups to call on the federal government to open an office in the Indo-Pacific, to help make progress in markets there.
Competing pulse producers, such as Australia and the United States, are already on the ground, doing a better job of making connections in the region, Ross said.
Asked about the proposed office, the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada spokesperson said there were a number of initiatives underway to promote Canadian trade in the Indo-Pacific region.