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Updates for COTA Members Re: COVID-19 from Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada/Canadian Food Inspection Agency 

The Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA), as the national voice of Canada’s organic sector, is continuing to participate in regular conference calls being hosted by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) as well as watch for other important government announcements. Our objective is to keep information flowing between industry and government – to provide critical information to assist you all in guiding your businesses during COVID-19 measures being in place.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Canadian Emergency Student Benefit

The Government of Canada recently announced the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit. In order to benefit from the financial support, students will have to demonstrate that they actively searched for a job and were not able to secure one.  The Minister strongly encouraged industry to list available jobs online where students can find them and to connect to the new AAFC job portal (Step Up to the Plate). https://us8.admin.mailchimp.com/campaigns/edit?id=4891917

US Relations
The Minister noted that, last week, she spoke with both United States (U.S.) Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, and Mexico’s Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development, Victor Villalobos, to underscore the importance of collaboration during the COVID-19 pandemic to sustain uninterrupted food and agriculture trade. 

The United States continues to face challenges in the processing industry as a number plants are facing closures and/or operating at reduced capacity due to COVID-19. 

  • Plant closures are causing production to back up. This is having an effect on prices and the ability to find markets for their animals. 
  • On April 28, President Trump signed an Executive Order (EO) declaring meat and poultry plants as critical infrastructure. He delegated authority to the Secretary of Agriculture under the Defense Production Act (DPA) to ensure the continued supply of meat and poultry. 
  • This will ensure that processors continue operations to the maximum extent possible and consistent with the guidance issued by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration specific for meat and poultry workers. More information will be sent out via the Roundtable account. 
  • The CDC’s guidance for critical infrastructure workers advises that these workers may be permitted to continue to work following potential exposure to COVID-19 provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are taken. AAFC noted that this link will be sent to industry. 
  • USDA will work with meat processing to affirm they will operate in accordance with this guidance, and then work with state and local officials to ensure that these plants are allowed to operate. 
  • CFIA and AAFC will continue to monitor and provide update. 

International Relations
The Minister continues to engage in multilateral fora, such as the virtual G20, to reaffirm Canada’s commitment to support international efforts to facilitate trade and protect food security despite the unprecedented challenges. 

In Europe, Agri-food supply chains continue to function despite certain challenges when it comes to transportation and logistics. 

  • Over the past few weeks, European countries have begun to gradually ease measures put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19. However, restaurants and other businesses will be slow to re-open given ongoing risks. 
  • Spain was the first of the hardest-hit EU countries to begin opening up on April 13. 
  • Italy announced that it will begin relaxing COVID-19 measures on May 4, with bars and restaurants reopening for takeaway service (currently just delivery). Bars and restaurants may be allowed to reopen for dine-in service starting early June (with social distancing measures in place), although no final decision has been made. 

Business Risk Management Programs
While AAFC understands that it can be challenging for industry to access funds provided by the Business Risk Management (BRM) programs, the Minister encouraged producers to apply to these existing programs to help them manage the negative financial impacts from COVID-19. AAFC continues to work closely with industry and provincial and territorial governments to determine how to best support the sector financially. In addition, the Minister noted that the Department is working very hard to get more targeted support. 

Survey on Personal Protective Equipment
Industry was strongly encouraged to participate in the second survey on personal protective equipment (PPE) needs launched by Public Safety, which closes on May 1st (NOTE: the deadline has been extended to May 4). This survey will help the Government of Canada gain a better understanding of the PPE needs and concerns of the sector. 

Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program Update
It was noted that there continues to be progress in the number of Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) arriving in Canada. It was highlighted that approximately 85% of the number of TFWs have arrived in April 2020 compared to April 2019. The Government continues to work hard on this file so that more TFWs arrive in the next months. For example, the Minister indicated that TFWs from Guatemala can now receive their visa once they arrive in Canada, thereby expediting the immigration process. 

AAFC indicated that the number of TFWs who have arrived in Canada so far remains strong. It was noted that there are more than 11,100 TFWs, as compared to 13,000 TFWs at the same moment last year, have now arrived (approximately 85% compared to last year). AAFC’s team is working with employer groups to address bottlenecks and to help facilitate TFWs entry to Canada. AAFC indicated that they are aware of New Brunswick’s decision to no longer allow TFWs to enter into the province to work. Senior level discussions between the federal and NB governments about this decision and its implications are ongoing. 

If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact COTA’s Executive Director, Tia Loftsgard by email or call 613-482-1717 ext. 200.
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