Wheat board reforms

by Teresa Acklin
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Just how far do they go?

By Jay Sjerven

   Reforms under way in the Canadian and Australian grain marketing systems indicate a worldwide shift away from excessive government influence over, or sometimes outright control of, grain production and marketing.

   The Canadian parliament recently voted to approve the most significant reform of the Canadian Wheat Board in more than a half-century. Bill C-4 amends the Canadian Wheat Board Act of 1935 in order to make the world's largest single-desk, grain-marketing entity more accountable to western Canadian wheat and barley growers.

   The new law, approved June 11, is the second major reform of the Canadian grain sector in this decade, the first being the elimination in 1995 of internal transportation subsidies on grain that had been in place since 1897.

   On June 1, Australian Wheat Board Ltd. was established to take over the operations of the Australian Wheat Board. A.W.B. Ltd. was commissioned to lay the groundwork for Australian farmers to take control of the grain marketing board when the federal government withdraws from active participation in the grain business in July 1999.

   Of the two, the Australian reform plan more dramatically limits the future role of government. But both plans retain by law the single-desk selling system, a principal mechanism through which the federal governments of the two countries exercised wide control over the grain industry for more than 50 years.

   Both the Canadian Wheat Board and the Australian Wheat Board were established by government mandate during the depths of the Great Depression. In the case of the C.W.B., the purpose initially was to provide a marketing alternative for Prairie grain farmers. Because of the disciplines thought to be required to ensure food security during World War II, the powers of the C.W.B. were expanded in 1943 to the point that the board attained a monopoly over the marketing of Prairie wheat.

   The A.W.B. was established in 1939, following the outbreak of World War II, to manage the marketing of wheat during the emergency.

   The wheat marketing monopolies of the boards established more than 50 years ago have been maintained to this day and are unaffected by the ongoing reforms.

   The changes were not expected to reduce tensions with the United States, because the reforms in Canada and Australia relate to governing the wheat boards and defining the degree of independence each will acquire from its federal government while leaving intact their monopolies over wheat marketing. The United States insists that state-sponsored single-desk sellers, no matter what the degree of day-to-day government control over their administration, have an unfair advantage in the marketplace.

Trinidad and Tobago at a glance
Official name: Republic of Trinidad and
Head of state: President Arthur Napoleon
Head of government: Prime Minister
Basdeo Panday.
Ruling party: United National Congress.
Capitol: Port-of-Spain.
Population: 1.3 million (Tobago,
50,000), tracing their roots back to
Africa (40%), India (40%), Europe,
South America, the Mediterranean,
the Middle East and China.
Official language: English
Currency: Trinidad and Tobago dollar
Exchange rate: Approximately TT$6.21 =
Area: Trinidad, 4,828 sq. km (1,864 sq.
miles); Tobago, 300 sq. km (116 sq.
Climate: The islands are warm all year
round, with a mean air temperature
ranging between 32°C (90° F) and
23° C (73° F). There are only two
seasons — a dry season that lasts
from about January to May and a wet
season that lasts from June to
December. Annual rainfall is approxi-
mately 2,000 mm and the average
number of hours of daylight is
approximately 11 hours per day.