By Barb Duckworth, 2018 First Place “Issues” Writing Category Winner
*Editor’s Note: This article is part of the “Story Behind the Story” series featuring first place 2018 AAEA Communication award winners. Click here to read the full award-winning article.
This was a story about following connections where ultimately my original thesis led me down a different path.
In 2016 Meat Promotion Wales signed a deal with Loblaws, one of Canada’s largest supermarket chains, to send Welsh lamb to eastern Canadian stores. Canada was in the midst of signing a free trade agreement with the European Union that allows more Canadian beef, bison and pork into Europe but the food safety requirements are a powerful non tariff barrier. I wondered about reciprocity and how much Canadian product could actually be approved for Europe.
The United Kingdom was a major supporter of opening trade with Canada, so I thought agriculture deals were possible.
Suddenly, the U.K. announced a vote to leave the European Union. When the Brexit vote came back yes, I wondered how that might affect trade when Canada’s friend was suddenly no longer part of a comprehensive agreement.
In the meantime I met some Irishmen at several Canadian beef and dairy events and they were concerned. I learned the Republic was becoming an aggressive meat and dairy exporter and was fishing around for new trading partners including Canada. The U.K. was traditionally the main destination for Irish agriculture products and farmers were worried about the Brexit impact of possible tariffs, access to labour, lengthy border and customs clearances as well as devalued currency. Farmers in the U.K. had the same worries about their dealings with the European continent.
I collected business cards from everyone I met, started to do some research and sent out enquiries to various farm groups.
It turned out to be the easiest international series of stories I have ever done because everybody said YES to interviews.
When I arrived in Ireland Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Europe to sign the free trade deal. It might have received considerable attention in Canada but it didn’t cause a ripple over there.
I asked about possible trade deals with Canada and one dour Scot replied they had not traditionally done much business and did not really have many contacts.
“Maybe we can send them some haggis,” he said. Incidentally, that turned out to be a dud because the Canadian Food Inspection Agency would not allow haggis into the country because some of the ingredients were considered unfit for human consumption! Brexit continues to be a big story. For agriculture, considerable uncertainty remains because the vote was held before much research was done on the pros and cons for farmers. Many rural areas had voted to stay because they understood the value of trade and worried about disruptive effects on their incomes and farm programs. They still don’t have answers and in all likelihood the Theresa May government will fall over its handling of the divorce. Now, the implications of a cobbled deal that could still fail might be fodder for a followup.