Under the Agridome

Cherry Picking Repressive Regimes Sideswipes Canadian Agriculture

Thursday, August 16th, 2018

It is been a pretty tough year for being a Canadian. In our northern climes, we are used to being ignored by most of the world especially our largest trading partner the United States. When the Trump administrations slapped steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada, citing national security grounds, I think many of us felt it was insulting. How can the country that landed all of those planes on September 11th be now called the security risk? Needless to say, its always-interesting living on the North American continent with our enthusiastic American friends.

Canadians aren’t used to being accused of things, especially bad things. So this week when the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) came down hard on Canada for standing up for human rights through a (twitter) tweet from Global Affairs Canada, most of us were ready for the response. Saudi Arabia took deep exception, withdrawing their ambassador and kicking out the Canadian Ambassador from Riyadh. The Saudis also suspended flights in and out of Canada and started the process of withdrawing all foreign students from Canadian universities. From a Canadian perspective, it was hard to believe we were so evil.

This is the tweet from Global Affairs Canada that got us in trouble. “Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists.” Samir Badawi is a human rights advocate in Saudi Arabia. Her sister in law lives in Quebec.

In 2018 there is no question that much diplomacy does take place over twitter. We all know that the American President is an expert at that, regardless of how you feel about his tweets. Increasingly, diplomacy is being done on twitter, and clearly that tweet got Canadians in trouble. The royal family in the KSA doesn’t take kindly to criticism.

My Canadian colleague Cliff Jamieson at DTN summarized some of the agricultural implications in his recent article, “Canada’s Riff With Saudi Arabia Includes Ag Exports”. Saudi Arabia announced they had stopped all purchases of wheat and barely. Cliff detailed that Canada had exported wheat and barley to Saudi Arabia in three of the past five crop years. So much for that! It will be a casualty of this dustup, even though it represents a very small proportion of our exports. There was also talk about G3 Canada, which is partly owned by SALIC Canada, (Saudi Agricultural and Livestock Investment Company) which is building an export terminal in the Port of Vancouver.

For those of you wondering why this is such a big deal, keep in mind the silence from Canadian allies on this matter. Saudi Arabia might be a very repressive regime, but they have an awful lot of money and a lot of oil. They are prickly at best when it comes to any comments regarding their human rights record. The Saudi regime has the blood from the war in Yemen all over them. Despite that, they wield such financial power over countries dependent on them for oil, there’s much silence about the current situation. Canada is being made an example of.

Canadian farmers surely hope we do not become the scapegoats in a trade dispute. Luckily, our trading relationship with Saudi Arabia is small. It is not like the United States, which has a problem with their biggest soybean buyer, China.

There is much hypocrisy in all this, even on the Canadian side. Simply put, it is a fool’s game to cherry pick repressive regimes in this world. In other words, some Canadians might think of Saudi Arabia as a repressive regime, but at the same time Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader in Myanmar is an honorary Canadian citizen, has stood back during the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in Myanmar. Canada deals with other repressive regimes as well like Iran, Russia and of course we can never forget China. The world has a lot of bad actors and most of the time economics gets in the way of human rights. However, Saudi Arabia didn’t like what Canada did and they are making sure the whole world knows.

In the strange oil consumption world, which is Canada there have been calls today to stop buying Saudi oil for Eastern Canada. Saudi oil production represents about 10% of Canadian oil imports. Many people especially from Western Canada see this unfriendly Saudi attitude as a reason for a renewal of the Energy East pipeline, which could replace the oil imported into Eastern Canada. That might find resonance in the next few months and maybe even into the next federal election 2019.

It’s been a little bit too exciting to say the least. I would much prefer if Canada would go back to being ignored by our American friends, ditto with Saudi Arabia. We aren’t morally superior to any country. At the same time, we try to stand up for human rights, at least when its convenient. It’s such a tortured thing. This time it’s sideswiped Canadian agriculture. We don’t really need any more of that.