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CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — Malpeque MP Wayne Easter says Canada’s decision to challenge the U.S. ban on P.E.I. potatoes under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is welcome but more needs to be done.

On Tuesday, the Canadian government demanded NAFTA consultations with the U.S. in the next 15 days with respect to its decision to restrict imports of potatoes from P.E.I.

In a joint statement released late Tuesday, International Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew and Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Lyle Vanclief announced that Canada’s request for NAFTA consultations was submitted earlier in the day.

Easter said the fast-track challenge under NAFTA is the strongest action at the highest level possible under the international trade agreement.

He said while it’s a welcome first step, he wants Canada to look at closing its borders to U.S. potatoes and possibly other agricultural commodities.

“I certainly welcome the strong challenge under NAFTA,” Easter said, reacting to the announcement out of Ottawa.

“It’s something that I called for in my memo to cabinet on Dec. 17. This is one of the approaches that we have to take but I still believe that we have to use border pressures as well.”

Pettigrew said the U.S. restrictions have no scientific justification, constitute an unjustified barrier to trade and violate U.S. international trade obligations.

“The Canadian government has been making high level representation to the U.S. administration to remove the restrictions,” said Pettigrew.

Lyle Vanclief added that Canada has science on its side.

“The continuing U.S. refusal to reopen the border to P.E.I. potatoes is completely unacceptable,” said Vanclief.

On Oct. 31, the U.S. Department of Agriculture closed the border to imports of potatoes from P.E.I. The action followed confirmation by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency of the presence of potato wart disease in one Island field.

Controls were put in place to prevent the spread of the disease and to protect the disease-free status of potatoes in the rest of the province.

On Dec. 13, the U.S. said in writing that the border would be reopened but that never happened.

On Dec. 29, officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture wrote to their Canadian counterparts and set in place more restrictions.

Those restrictions have been called unacceptable by both provincial and federal officials.

–The Guardian (Charlottetown)

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