Globe and Mail, July 15, 1996
U.S. grain interests are cricling the Wheat Board
by David Orchard
Not the friendly giants: American corporations
controlling most of the world's food supply are moving rapidly into
Canada. Sovereignty over our own produce is at at stake.
Since the passage of the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement, the
Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) has been under growing attack. A small
but noisy band of prairie farmers/truckers, using the rhetoric of
the U.S. right, is running grain illegally across the border and
denouncing the board as a "socialistic," "communistic," dictatorship.
These individuals, some of whom are buying grain from other farmers
and trucking it across the border at a handsome profit to themselves,
would not generate much support on their own. The rising U.S. price
for grain makes their actions temporarily lucrative but these "freedom
fighters" would quickly park their trucks -- and their rhetoric
-- whenever U.S. prices were falling. Of far more significance are
the major players of the U.S. grain trade.
Because of CWB protection, the Canadian grain industry remains
70% domestically controlled. Set up in 1935 under pressure from
farmers, the board has become, in the words of Dan Morgan in his
study of the trade, Merchants of Grain, "the most powerful
and prestigious" marketing board in the world. Because it is such
an effective competitor and because its presence blocks complete
takeover by American grain giants, these companies have long sought
Thundering speeches by private grain representatives in the late
1940's and early 50's condemned the board as a socialist plot, but
failed to sway farmers' support or that of the government of the
day. After the huge Wheat Board sale to the Soviet Union in September
1963, Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin attacked Canada for
"an inexcusable case of trading with the enemy, for the enemy's
benefit, in our cold war with the Soviet Union." Illinois Senator
Paul Douglas called the sale "a direct blow to U.S. foreign policy
that damages our best hope of overthrowing Russia and China through
revolution from within." (One month later President Kennedy authorized
U.S. grain sales to Moscow!)
Since the Free Trade Agreement, in the negotiation of which Cargill
Grain of Minneapolis, the world's largest grain company, played
a key role, the U.S. grain corporations have become emboldened.
From the Reno convention of the National Wheat Growers early in
1996 the U.S. industry announced it supported Canadian farmers trying
to end the CWB's monopoly on export sales. Winston Wilson, president
of U.S. Wheat Associates declared, "One day we're going to have
a North American wheat market. There is no way you're going to stop
that, it's going to happen and we might as well get ready for it."
Richard Garber, president of the Idaho Grain Producers said: "For
the free trade agreement to work for both parties, Canada must make
adjustments to bring their system closer to our marketing system."
Seven American and European families own the five corporations
which control most of the world's food supply -- and are moving
rapidly into Canada. In the words of Gord Cummings, CEO of Alberta
Wheat Pool, the Board is "under attack, battered from all sides,
with almost no defenders... I would describe it as the sharks have
smelled blood and they are circling the body." Con Agra, the world's
fourth largest food company has opened a Winnipeg office. Cargill
is expanding its Canadian operation rapidly; and General Mills has
just built a large grain facility in Sweetgrass, Montana in partnership
with Alberta Pool. "A shift to north-south shipping patterns, the
North American free trade agreement and massive rail reform prompted
the decision to build the facility," says the company.
Without the CWB, Canada's grain trade would soon be about as "Canadian"
as our energy industry, auto or movie industry. And Canadian flour
milling -- which has gone with startling speed from mostly Canadian
hands to almost complete American control. "From start to end, when
the first major transaction happened, when an American company bought
one of the Canadian flour mills until the point when virtually all
the flour milling industry in Canada was owned by foreign interests,
was 15 months," says Gord Cummings.
Losing control of the purchase and export of Canada's grain strikes
at what is left of Canadian sovereignty. Under U.S. control, Canadian
grain will go to countries that meet Washington's favour and to
no one else. And the profits would go to U.S. corporations, not
to Canada or its farmers. The breakthroughs in trade with China,
the Soviet Union, Cuba and others achieved under Diefenbaker, Pearson
and Trudeau, with great advantage to Canada, could not happen. The
recent sale of CN Rail and termination of the historic east-west
Crows' Nest Pass Freight Agreement facilitate the movement of Canadian
grain south through the Gulf of Mexico where U.S. companies have
the fleets of barges and terminals already in place to handle it.
The U. S. is not the Friendly Giant. It is Canada's competitor
and by far its most dangerous one. Those who would destroy the Wheat
Board are playing with fire and need a fast response from those
concerned about the country's sovereignty.