Posted  27 Mar, 2020 
In: News

The Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA), as the national voice of Canada’s organic sector, is continuing to participate in regular conference calls being hosted by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) as well as watch for other important government announcements. Our objective is to keep information flowing between industry and government – to provide critical information to assist you all in guiding your businesses during COVID-19 measures being in place.


Monday, May 11th:

Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) & Other Labour issues

  •  AAFC noted that, since April 1st, there have been approximately 12,000 TFWs enter Canada and approximately 1,700 more booked on charter flights from Guatemala (4 flights), Jamaica (3 flights) and St. Vincent (1 flight) over the next week. It was noted that this flight from St. Vincent is the first charter flight to be planned from this country.
  • On May 8, 2020, Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) published new guidance for the International Experience Canada (IEC) program, one of the main programs youth come to work in Canada, under.
  •  The main change for this year is that foreign nationals currently outside Canada who hold a valid IEC work permit or Letter of Introduction will require proof of an active job offer before they can enter Canada. Upon entry, they can only start their employment after completing the 14-day isolation period.

Update on Mandatory Isolation Support for Temporary Foreign Workers Program (MISTFWP)

Businesses are now able to apply online to receive up to $1,500 per TFW under the MISTWFP.

The MISTFWT is a one-time $50-million program to help with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on food supply in Canada by assisting the farming, fish harvesting, and food production and processing sectors. The program is designed to help employers cover some of the incremental costs associated with the mandatory 14-day isolation period imposed under the Quarantine Act on temporary foreign workers upon entering Canada.

Program  

  •  AAFC noted that 5,100 employers received an email invitation to apply for the new Mandatory Isolation Support for Temporary Foreign Workers Program (MISTFWP) last week. AAFC noted that they are administering the MISTFWP across Canada with the exception of Prince Edward Island. Eligible employers in the province of Prince Edward Island can apply for the program through their provincial government.
  • This funding is a one-time $50-million federal investment to help with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on food supply in Canada by assisting the farming, fish harvesting, and food production and processing sectors. The Program will assist Canadian employers with some of the incremental costs associated with the mandatory 14-day quarantine period imposed under the Quarantine Act on temporary foreign workers upon entering Canada.
  •  It was indicated that applications can be submitted online, by email, mail or fax and must be received by AAFC by August 15th. It was also noted that the program will be eligible to expenses from March 26, 2020 to June 30, 2020. Industry was directed to notify AAFC if there were employers who did not receive the information and that there is a toll-free line available for employers to ask questions.

Tariff relief to importers of certain medical goods

On May 6, 2020, the Government of Canada announced it is waiving customs duties on imports of certain medical supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves, until further notice. This measure is effective May 5, 2020, on a prospective basis and will remain in effect for as long as warranted by the COVID-19 crisis. It is intended to ensure that tariffs do not create a cost or supply barrier when accessing critical goods from outside Canada

Relief is available to all importers including businesses, distributors, and individual Canadians on specified medical goods and equipment A list of the goods covered is included in the Canada Border Services Agency Customs Notice 20-19.

Seeking clarification on who is exempt from mandatory quarantine (self-isolation)?

If you have questions related to who is exempt from the 14 days mandatory quarantine upon entry to Canada, including about the interpretation of the recent addition of technicians specified by manufacturer or the manufacturer warranty to maintain or repair equipment necessary to support critical infrastructure, we encourage you to contact PHAC at 1-833-784-4397 (interpretation services are available in multiple languages) or at phac.emergencyorder-decretdurgencecovid19.aspc@canada.ca.

Targeted support for the agriculture and agri-food sector

On May 5, 2020, the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, announced targeted support  for the agriculture and agri-food sector, including:

  • $77.5 million Emergency Processing Fund
  • national AgriRecovery initiatives of up to $125 million
  • Surplus Food Purchase Program with an initial $50 million fund
  • Intention to work with provinces and territories to increase interim AgriStability payments and an expansion to the AgriInsurance program.

The Prime Minister also announced the intention to increase the Canadian Dairy Commission’s borrowing limit by $200 million to support costs associated with the temporary storage of cheese and butter to avoid food waste. The government will work with opposition parties to achieve the required legislative change.

The details/criteria for these programs are still being finalized and will be shared with stakeholders as soon as possible.

Wage subsidy top-up

On May 7, 2020, the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, announced that all provinces and territories have confirmed (or are in the process of confirming) plans to cost share wage top-ups for their essential workers. It was designed as a transfer to provinces and territories to help in the fight against COVID 19.

The eligibility recipients of the wage top-ups will vary across the country, as each province and territory had the flexibility to choose which essential workers will be prioritized for the wage increases in their individual jurisdictions. We encourage you to reach out to your provincial/territorial governments to find out more about the eligibility of the agriculture and agri-food sector.

Workplace guidance for sector employers and employees

AAFC worked with federal partners to develop guidance for the sector, summarizing important information based on questions that have been received over the last few weeks related to public health guidance as well as providing links to key resources. The information is now live at “Workplace guidance for sector employers and employees”. AAFC will continually update this webpage as new guidance is available or as need for more information is noted by industry, so please check back regularly.

New guidance for the International Experience Canada (IEC) program

On May 8, 2020, Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) published new guidance for the International Experience Canada program, one of the main programs youth come to work in Canada under. The IEC Program includes up to three different streams of work permits for youth, depending on the arrangement: international co-op, young professionals, and working holiday. These NEW measures come into effect today and a message has been sent to partner countries and stakeholders.

Effective May 8th, 2020 and lasting until further notice, only foreign nationals currently outside Canada who: (i) hold a valid IEC work permit or Letter of Introduction; and (ii) have a current and active offer of employment will be permitted to enter Canada.  Please note that this new provision applies to all three streams of IEC work permits: international co-op, young professionals, and working holiday. Foreign nationals who do not have a job offer should not come to Canada at this time. Further, those who do have a job offer and are currently outside Canada must confirm that their employer is not subject to mandatory closure of non-essential businesses and will be able to start their employment after the 14-day isolation period before making any travel arrangements.    

IRCC has developed a web page on Questions and Answers related to COVID-19.  Please check these sites periodically, as they will be updated with new information as required. IEC participants and case-specific questions should be directed to IRCC using this IRCC web form.

Seeking clarification on who is exempt from mandatory quarantine (self-isolation)?

If you have questions related to who is exempt from the 14 days mandatory quarantine upon entry to Canada, including about the interpretation of the recent addition of technicians specified by manufacturer or the manufacturer warranty to maintain or repair equipment necessary to support critical infrastructure, we encourage you to contact PHAC at 1-833-784-4397 (interpretation services are available in multiple languages) or at phac.emergencyorder-decretdurgencecovid19.aspc@canada.ca.

Communication Lines – Maintaining a stable food supply for export during COVID-19

Some of you have mentioned on previous calls that you are receiving an increase in international inquiries on Canada’s ability to maintain existing export levels. To assist in addressing, please find attached communication lines in both official languages that you can use to address these concerns.

Thursday, May 7th:

Updates
On May 5, 2020 the Prime Minister made an announcement with regard to support for the agriculture and agri-food sector. These included:

  1.  a $77.5 million Emergency Processing Fund
  2.  a national AgriRecovery initiative of up to $125 million
  3.  a Surplus Food Purchase Program with an initial $50 million fund.
  4. the intention to working with provinces and territories to increase interim AgriStability payments and an expansion to the AgriInsurance program.
  5. The Prime Minister also announced the intention to increase the Canadian Dairy Commission’s borrowing limit by $200 million to support costs associated with the temporary storage of cheese and butter to avoid food waste. The government will work with opposition parties to achieve the required legislative change

The details/criteria for these programs are still being finalized and will be shared with stakeholders as soon as possible.

Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) & Other Labour issues
AAFC noted that the TFW numbers remain strong and indicated that 11,700 TFWs entered Canada in the month of April 2020 compared to 13,000 for April 2019. AAFC mentioned that it estimates that almost 730 TFWs have arrived in Canada in May 2020, with another 2,000 expected to arrive within the next week. This represents approximately 36% of the total TFW arrivals for May 2019.

AAFC noted that they are expecting 10 charter flights to arrive from Guatemala (7) and Jamaica (3). There are no charter flights confirmed from Mexico yet.

AAFC’s team continues working with employer groups to address bottlenecks in the system and to help facilitate TFWs entry to Canada. All questions on logistical challenges can continue to be sent to the aafc.roundtable-tableronde.aac@canada.ca

AAFC noted that they are conscious that there will be fewer TFWs in Canada this year and understand that there is uncertainty for all employers especially in the horticulture sector and other sectors that are planting or making planting decisions.

The Government of Canada has used various tools to try and alleviate the labour supply pressure on the system (e.g., The Step-up to the Plate labour matching campaign, Canada Summer Jobs Program, wage subsidy program). Given the labour availability challenges, AAFC is working closely with provinces to pursue changes to this years AgriInsurance program to have labour shortfalls be recognized as a reason to trigger an indemnity. This would provide greater eligibility of benefits for producers.

Programs Available

The Emergency Processing Fund ($77.5 million) was created to help food producers manage new challenges: to adapt to health protocols, to automate or modernize their facilities, to processes, to facilitate the operations, and to respond to emerging pressures from COVID-19 so they can better supply Canadians with food during this period.

Applications will be assessed and ranked based on alignment against program parameters and their overall benefit and ability to achieve the key objectives of the program (mitigation support, production capacity and also automation technologies). AAFC will look to balance funding between large corporations and SMEs.

An online application will be available soon and funding will be accessible on a rolling basis. The funding will be a combination of both repayable (e.g., investments in capital) and non-repayable contributions. AAFC will send more information when available.

COVID-19 is creating reduced processing capacity and backing up supply chains, so in order to help farmers manage extraordinary disaster costs up to $125 million is available under AgriRecovery. AgriRecovery assists producers with the extraordinary costs they must take on to recover from disasters events. It specifically focuses support towards recovery costs that are not adequately covered by other programs. It was noted that work was underway on hogs and cattle and further AgriRecovery requests are expected in the future.

The initiative will help cover extraordinary disaster costs associated with treating animals humanely and reducing the risk of over-crowding following meat processing slowdown due to Covid-19. AAFC officials are working closely with their provincial counterparts to evaluate the impacts of COVID-19 and complete any assessments in a timely manner.

The Surplus Food Purchase Program will provide new funding to support food security needs and help manage surplus commodities. Work will be carried out with national food recovery agencies, and also involve corporations, for the repurposing and redistribution of existing and identified surplus food that respects the needs and health of vulnerable populations in Canada. The program is focused on surplus commodities that have resulted from COVID-19, rather than on commodities in storage waiting to go to market.

AAFC is working directly with national food recovery agencies, and other corporations as part of the Food Rescue Task Force. These organizations are well positioned to quickly and efficiently repurpose and redistribute existing and identified surplus food, arrange transport and ensure that food banks and food serving organizations are able to provide this food to at-risk populations.

Friday, May 1st:

Canadian Emergency Student Benefit

The Government of Canada recently announced the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit. In order to benefit from the financial support, students will have to demonstrate that they actively searched for a job and were not able to secure one.  The Minister strongly encouraged industry to list available jobs online where students can find them and to connect to the new AAFC job portal (Step Up to the Plate). https://us8.admin.mailchimp.com/campaigns/edit?id=4891917

US Relations
The Minister noted that, last week, she spoke with both United States (U.S.) Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, and Mexico’s Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development, Victor Villalobos, to underscore the importance of collaboration during the COVID-19 pandemic to sustain uninterrupted food and agriculture trade.

The United States continues to face challenges in the processing industry as a number plants are facing closures and/or operating at reduced capacity due to COVID-19.

  • Plant closures are causing production to back up. This is having an effect on prices and the ability to find markets for their animals.
  • On April 28, President Trump signed an Executive Order (EO) declaring meat and poultry plants as critical infrastructure. He delegated authority to the Secretary of Agriculture under the Defense Production Act (DPA) to ensure the continued supply of meat and poultry.
  • This will ensure that processors continue operations to the maximum extent possible and consistent with the guidance issued by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration specific for meat and poultry workers. More information will be sent out via the Roundtable account.
  • The CDC’s guidance for critical infrastructure workers advises that these workers may be permitted to continue to work following potential exposure to COVID-19 provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are taken. AAFC noted that this link will be sent to industry.
  • USDA will work with meat processing to affirm they will operate in accordance with this guidance, and then work with state and local officials to ensure that these plants are allowed to operate.
  • CFIA and AAFC will continue to monitor and provide update.

International Relations
The Minister continues to engage in multilateral fora, such as the virtual G20, to reaffirm Canada’s commitment to support international efforts to facilitate trade and protect food security despite the unprecedented challenges.

In Europe, Agri-food supply chains continue to function despite certain challenges when it comes to transportation and logistics.

  • Over the past few weeks, European countries have begun to gradually ease measures put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19. However, restaurants and other businesses will be slow to re-open given ongoing risks.
  • Spain was the first of the hardest-hit EU countries to begin opening up on April 13.
  • Italy announced that it will begin relaxing COVID-19 measures on May 4, with bars and restaurants reopening for takeaway service (currently just delivery). Bars and restaurants may be allowed to reopen for dine-in service starting early June (with social distancing measures in place), although no final decision has been made.

Business Risk Management Programs
While AAFC understands that it can be challenging for industry to access funds provided by the Business Risk Management (BRM) programs, the Minister encouraged producers to apply to these existing programs to help them manage the negative financial impacts from COVID-19. AAFC continues to work closely with industry and provincial and territorial governments to determine how to best support the sector financially. In addition, the Minister noted that the Department is working very hard to get more targeted support.

Survey on Personal Protective Equipment
Industry was strongly encouraged to participate in the second survey on personal protective equipment (PPE) needs launched by Public Safety, which closes on May 1st (NOTE: the deadline has been extended to May 4). This survey will help the Government of Canada gain a better understanding of the PPE needs and concerns of the sector.

Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program Update
It was noted that there continues to be progress in the number of Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) arriving in Canada. It was highlighted that approximately 85% of the number of TFWs have arrived in April 2020 compared to April 2019. The Government continues to work hard on this file so that more TFWs arrive in the next months. For example, the Minister indicated that TFWs from Guatemala can now receive their visa once they arrive in Canada, thereby expediting the immigration process.

AAFC indicated that the number of TFWs who have arrived in Canada so far remains strong. It was noted that there are more than 11,100 TFWs, as compared to 13,000 TFWs at the same moment last year, have now arrived (approximately 85% compared to last year). AAFC’s team is working with employer groups to address bottlenecks and to help facilitate TFWs entry to Canada. AAFC indicated that they are aware of New Brunswick’s decision to no longer allow TFWs to enter into the province to work. Senior level discussions between the federal and NB governments about this decision and its implications are ongoing.


If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact COTA’s Manager of Policy and Research, Brian Lemon at blemon@canada-organic.ca or call 613-482-1717 ext. 206.


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