MONTREAL — Have you heard Danny Dempster is retiring?

U.S. trade retaliation versus Canada on horizon

Greg Johnson
Editor

It was hard to miss at the 86th annual Canadian Produce Marketing Association convention April 13-15 in Montreal.

No one knows what his involvement will be in the produce industry after his official May 1 retirement.

On the last day of the convention, April 15, Dempster told me he doesn’t even know.

He said he won’t know how he’ll feel about it until it’s truly over and he’s driving back home to Ottawa over the weekend. He said he didn’t want to look ahead too far because he didn’t want to miss out on the now.

Not a bad philosophy for life, really.

Dempster has always come across as down to earth, and he’s always embraced that, but those who know him best say he knows far more than he lets on.

One thing he learned from his father, he told the audience at the April 15 general session, is that even while everyone may argue during the day at a meeting, they get along better and come to a consensus once the whiskey comes out.

Dan certainly gets along.

“I’ve always wanted to get people to think that CPMA is a place where everyone knows your name,” he said, referring to the TV classic “Cheers,” “and I’m Norm Peterson.”

Dempster was also renowned for getting things done.

Western Growers executive vice president Matt McInerney said in his tribute to Dempster, “Dan has been a role model for public policy by concentrating on the finish line, not on who gets the credit.”

Dempster’s successor Ron Lemaire summed it up. “The industry truly loves him.”

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On CPMA’s business side, it seems the industry’s effort to create a Canadian trust system similar to the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act is finally getting somewhere thanks to the threat of trade retaliation.

It was a subject of an April 15 workshop, and attendee Ken Forth, president of the Ottawa-based Canadian Horticultural Council, recounted the challenges, including losing momentum recently as the May 2 election nears.

Fred Webber, vice president of trading assistance for the Ottawa-based Dispute Resolution Corp., said the industry is taking a different approach with the Canadian government than in the past.

“In the past, we took the more politically correct approach,” he said. “Now we’re more urgent.”

Webber said in the past six months the industry really hit the issue hard, even though it’s been a problem for more than 15 years.

WGA’s McInerney said the produce industry on both sides of the Canadian border is making more progress than in the past because itsmessage is more organized.

For years, he said, Canadian officials have denied there’s a problem.

To illustrate the point that Canada’s lack of a PACA-like trust is in fact a problem, many have pointed out that Canadian produce shippers have more protection sending product to the U.S. than trading within its own borders because PACA applies to importers.

That doesn’t even include the lack of protection for U.S. shippers sending product to Canada.

McInerney estimated U.S. firms build in a 1% to 5% surcharge to account for that same percentage of times shippers will not be paid for a load going to Canada.

That ultimately costs Canadian consumers.

Mexico shows how to retaliate

The U.S. was on the other end of a trade dispute with Mexico. NAFTA rules agreed to let Mexican trucks travel into the U.S., but the U.S. wouldn’t allow them. So Mexico slapped a tariff on many U.S. goods going into Mexico, including fresh produce.

You’ve read about this, I’m sure.

You better believe that got the U.S.’s attention, and an agreement was reached recently.

The U.S. has a similar option with Canada in this case. McInerney and Webber suggested the U.S. insist that Canada move toward a PACA-like trust or the U.S. should strip Canadian companies’ rights under PACA in the U.S.

Harsh? Sure, but not as harsh as a 50% tariff.

McInerney said produce groups plan to meet with U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Trade Representative officials in May to discuss options, including stripping PACA rights for Canadian produce companies.

McInerney calls it “strong encouragement.” I call it getting serious. Some might even call it a threat.

Whatever it’s called, it has to get done.

As Danny Dempster would like, it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.

E-mail gjohnson@thepacker.com

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