Potatoes are saving P.E.I. from an import ban to the U.S.

Members of Parliament paid a visit to a tomato farm Thursday with an assist from a spud.

Potato Representative Alan Tse, who represents the province of P.E.I., said part of the point of the trip was to help turn around the $5-million loss in export revenues the island suffered over the past two years. P.E.I. produced 9 million pounds of potatoes in 2017 and just 5.7 million pounds in 2018.

“Why do we do something now?” said Tse. “Because it’s the right thing to do.”

The government of P.E.I. said last month that it would not recognize any import permits for potatoes from the United States once Canadian laws change in March. Currently, P.E.I. meets all of the quality, weight and packaging requirements for potatoes shipped to the U.S. through a long chain of brokers, distributors and retailers.

P.E.I. introduced legislation late last year to prohibit Canadians from buying farm-raised, Canadian potatoes and then exporting the potatoes to the U.S. when the ban kicks in on March 1. The government is trying to appease American opposition to its legislation by giving P.E.I. control over the process. The government hopes the U.S. will agree to a temporary exemption from the ban when American legislation is passed to give it broad jurisdiction over a plethora of food products.

Sen. James Cowan, D-P.E.I., said he supported the bill and the message Tse and members of P.E.I.’s legislative assembly delivered to legislators.

“We talked about what the farm bill did to the Canadian agricultural sector, particularly the potatoes,” Cowan said. “And I’m certainly sympathetic to the idea that, ‘We don’t want American people consuming a limited subset of what P.E.I. produces because we’ve lost so much business.’ It’s a loss for our farmers and it’s also a loss for families throughout P.E.I. who don’t have a choice of other food options.”

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has argued that the P.E.I. law “radically exceeds” federal authority and that the Canadian government would prefer P.E.I. use the existing free-trade agreement with the U.S.

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