With an overhaul of its regulatory system for fresh produce imminent, the Canadian marketplace soon will be undergoing more changes than at any time in the past 20 years.
At least that was the view of Fred Webber, chief executive officer and president of the Ottawa-based Dispute Resolution Corp., which can mediate produce sales conflicts among the North American Free Trade Agreement partners of Canada, the United States and Mexico.
He said the licensing change alone takes on a whole new meaning in Canada and it will be much easier for U.S. and Mexican trading partners to check the validity of the Canadian firms with which they do business.
Webber was part of three-person panel discussion about the Canadian produce industry at the United Fresh convention in Chicago, June 10-12. Also discussing the new regulations, which have not been finalized yet, and what they mean were Shelley Ippolito, director of the Destination Inspection Service for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Canadian Produce Marketing Association President Ron Lemaire.
The proposed regulations have gone through several levels of vetting as well as the initial comment period, so these experts appeared to be fairly confident that their impressions of the final regulations are accurate.
Ippolito said it appears that every company importing fruits or vegetables or preparing them for export between countries or between Canadian provinces will have to be licensed under the new regulations.
In addition, all licensees will have to be members of the DRC. Webber said that shippers doing their due diligence will be able to check to make sure a buyer has a license, and is a member in good standing of the DRC. But even if a seller does not do its due diligence, it will be very difficult to sell to a non-licensed company because the product will be prohibited from entering Canada if it is not headed to a licensee.
“You just can’t sell it to whoever,” said Webber. “You will have to sell it to someone legally.”
With regard to the DRC, he said that anyone will be able to appeal to the DRC for help in a slow-pay situation, but still only DRC members will be able to participate in the dispute resolution piece.
So that means there is still a very viable business reason for countries outside of Canada doing business with Canadian companies to have a DRC membership.
Ippolito also discussed the revitalized Destination Inspection Service, which has gone through an overhaul over the last several years. Today, that government agency provides timely inspections on conditions, quality and temperature, and it can also conduct custom inspections. She said the CFIA inspectors operate on a 24/7 time schedule and they produce clear and transparent inspection reports that are available digitally.
Webber plugged the program, telling U.S. and Mexican shippers to make sure they designate a DIS inspection when asking for one from the receiver. He said a receiver can use a private inspector but it must be with “informed consent “from the shipper, and he indicated that it might not be as accurate.
“Please, please, please make sure, when there is a problem, you get a DIS inspection,” urged Webber.
Lemaire also discussed what he called the “massive change” in the Canadian produce marketplace. He also complimented the government in accomplishing these changes “lightning fast.”
With more transparency and a better situation, the CPMA executive said there are great opportunities for doing business in Canada. He called it a very diversified country with 37 million resident of which 6.5 million are immigrants. Canadian’s immigrant population continues to grow, and, as in the United States, ethnic populations tend to be very big consumers of fresh produce.
And also like the United States, the Canadian population is getting older, which is another driver of increased produce consumption. He said Canadians are adventurous eaters with a recent survey stating that 77 percent of the respondents had eaten a new produce item in the past year.
Lemaire said the changes in the regulations, while significant, should not be traumatic for those exporting product into Canada. He indicated that CPMA and other industry representatives worked with the regulators to make sure the regulations were not onerous.
Speaking specifically about food-safety requirements, Lemaire said they are outcome-based, relying on a heavy dose of science and risk analysis.
“The proof will be in the pudding,” he said, but clearly indicated that he is very optimistic.