More than 100 potato growers from across Prince Edward Island met virtually Friday with the Island's four members of Parliament to discuss the ongoing potato wart crisis and what federal politicians can do to get the U.S. border reopened to fresh potatoes.
It has been more than six weeks since the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued the trade ban in reaction to American concerns around the discovery of potato wart in two Island fields, halting all exports of P.E.I. potatoes to the U.S., a move that has been criticized by P.E.I.'s premier and farmers alike.
"We've got to get this moving and urgent, like the sense of urgency that came through loud and clear from the growers," said John Visser, chair of the P.E.I. Potato Board.
"That's critical, and I think they're getting that, and hopefully they'll bring that to Ottawa."
Growers stand to lose $120 million or more due to the border closure.
Friday evening in a written release, the federal minister of agriculture announced a new committee — the federal ministerial coordinating committee on P.E.I. potatoes — which promises to enhance "co-ordination and collaboration across the federal government to respond to concerns and find solutions."
"The committee will be an important forum to exchange information and further develop strategies to address the issue, while minimizing impacts of potato wart on the P.E.I. potato sector," the release said.
'Top priority' to restore exports
The committee will look at things like technical discussions to provide scientific reassurance to the United States, programs to support Island farmers, the progress of the Industry-Government Potato Working Group and lobbying to access international markets. The first meeting will take place next week, the release said.
The committee will be co-chaired by federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and Ginette Petitpas Taylor, minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. Committee members will include Dominic LeBlanc, minister of intergovernmental affairs, infrastructure and communities, International Trade Minister Mary Ng, and Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay from P.E.I.
"It's a top priority for every single one of us to restore exports of P.E.I.'s world-class potatoes to the U.S., and we'll continue working together to ensure we get the border reopened as soon as possible." MacAulay said in a statement to CBC News.
During Friday's meeting, growers told the MPs $28 million in federal compensation offered so far will not be enough.
Bibeau has said the U.S. will not accept P.E.I. potatoes until they see the scientific proof they require that there is no threat of potato wart spreading to U.S. farms.
Last month, CFIA officials told a P.E.I. legislative committee the agency might not complete its investigation until 2023.