Premier Kathleen Wynne released this statement following the Premier’s Summit on Agri-Food in Toronto:
“As some of you may know, I just got back from business missions to China and Vietnam. It was my third time in China as Premier, and my first visit to Vietnam.
No matter what city I was in, people were eager to talk about food — food supply and food security. As the Ontario delegation included grower associations, food processors and agri-food innovators, we were happy to have those conversations.
Our agri-food sector is internationally recognized as one of the best in the world. People want to do business with us — I heard that first-hand throughout my time in China. And with the explosive growth of China’s middle class, there is more demand for high-quality Ontario ingredients every day.
This is the opportunity we are seizing.
Richmond Hill’s Ownace produces high-quality nutritious food products such as cereal, quinoa, oats and honey. In Nanjing, they signed an agreement that will open up China’s East Territory as a new market for the company’s food products.
Another Richmond Hill company, Canada Lawkes International Natural Health Products, signed a deal in Chongqing. They will supply Ontario-grown ginseng to be used in Chinese medicine and health supplements.
And in Beijing, I met with Feihe International to talk about their plans to build an infant formula production facility in Kingston. It will be the company’s first facility outside of China.
You may know that China has been phasing out its long-standing one-child policy — that means a lot more babies. And Feihe saw a business opportunity here in Ontario. Not just because we are a competitive place to do business. They also chose Ontario because of the exceptional reputation of our dairy industry and the high quality of the milk products produced here.
So when Feihe opens, it will produce, package and distribute infant formula using Ontario cow and goat milk. Kingston’s mayor called it one of the single largest economic developments in the city’s history. That’s a success story.
And it’s a credit to the strong agri-food sector you have built here in our province. Obviously, the success of this mission is fresh in my mind. But it also illustrates an important reality we are all living with.
It’s that we are in a period of incredible change — and adaptation is key. You know this as well as anyone. You see the effects of the global economy every day — whether you’re a farmer whose family has been working the same soil for generations, or you’re new to the industry. You know that as our world gets a little smaller, it’s more and more important that we build an ag sector that sits at the centre of this change.
So we’re working together to answer the big questions posed by this moment. How do we meet the demands of a growing, global community in a way that is also sustainable and responsible? And how do we make sure that you can keep feeding Ontario, and the rest of the world?
First, we have to focus on our biggest customer and our top supplier — the U.S.
With NAFTA negotiations still underway, many are concerned about the status of our trade relationship with the United States, which is so important to many in the sector.
In the face of these challenges, I can’t think of a better champion for agriculture, food and rural Ontario than Jeff Leal, who represented Ontario at the latest round of negotiations in Mexico City just last month. He’s been meeting with government officials and business leaders to defend your interests, including the supply-managed sector — and so have I.
We know the supply-management system is integral to a strong and competitive agri-food sector. The proposal, as part of the negotiations, to dismantle the supply-management system for dairy, chicken, eggs and turkey is unprecedented. That system directly supports hundreds of thousands of jobs on family farms across the province.
Farms that are the backbone of our rural communities. Farms that have shaped the world-renowned agri-food sector we have today — producing such high-quality products that companies like Feihe would invest hundreds of millions just to get their hands on it. So protecting our workers and their families will always be my priority.
But trade is not a zero-sum game. Throughout the NAFTA negotiations, my message on this has been clear. The benefits of free trade between Canada and the U.S. are real. And the benefits are shared.
Last year alone, we did almost $29 billion in Ontario-U.S. agri-food trade. I’m talking about the hog that was raised in Ontario, slaughtered in Michigan and served for dinner in Korea. Or the sweet potatoes that were grown in Idaho, fried in Mississauga and sent to grocery stores around the world.
When we can trade freely, we help each other add value to our products. Over and over again, free trade means growth in our economy and good jobs for our people. Which is why Minister Leal and I will continue to make sure the interests of Ontario are promoted in the NAFTA negotiations. And whatever the outcome of the negotiations, we will work with you and other sectors to make sure that Ontario is ready and continues to prosper on the road ahead.
So we’ve been active on the trade front — that’s for sure. But the reality is it all starts here. With good things growing in Ontario. It’s why, in my first year as Premier, I made myself Minister of Agriculture and Food. I wanted to send a clear message to everyone — rural or urban — we are in this together. We are one Ontario.
Because everyone wants to live in strong, vibrant communities. We want to build a fairer, better Ontario for our children and grandchildren. And we can’t build that kind of province without an equally strong, evolving agri-food sector.
So, we’re also turning our attention to the next generation of skilled agri-food leaders. In elementary and high schools, students have multiple opportunities to learn about local food, farm innovation and a variety of potential careers in the agri-food area.
We’ll also keep working with you to find new ways to help lower your carbon footprint. One of the ways we’re doing that is by supporting innovation in agri-food. The Greenbelt Fund’s Local Food Investment Fund helps innovators invest in new technologies and stay competitive — people like today’s winners.
This year’s winners represent a range of innovation across our province — from healthy bees to microgreens; from helping people better understand the farm-to-table story to minimizing food waste, and cleaning our food in a safe and healthy way.
But today’s winners all share a common goal. Through ingenuity, dedication and hard work, you are planting the seeds for an even brighter future for agri-food. Together, we will build an agri-food sector that can continue to adapt and grow. And together, we’ll do what we’ve always done — feed Ontario, feed the world and be good stewards of our land for the next generation.”