MONTREAL, QUEBEC, CANADA — In her first public engagement, Canada’s new agriculture minister Marie-Claude Bibeau touched on the recent blockage of canola by China, emphasized the importance of trade and the government’s continued support for innovation.

“My message to you today is that our government is committed to supporting a strong and competitive grain and oilseed industry in Canada, and as your new minister, I look forward to working with you to move the sector forward,” said Bibeau, during the Canadian Crops Convention in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. “I’m fully aware that agriculture is a major contributor to our economy. It accounts for 1 in 8 jobs and 7% of our GDP.”

Bibeau started as ag minister on March 1, replacing Lawrence MacAulay, who had the position since 2015 and is now minister of veterans’ affairs and associate minister of defense.

She previously was minister of international development and was elected to parliament in 2015. Bibeau is the first woman to lead Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

China’s recent decision to block certain shipments of Canadian canola is a top priority for the government right now, Bibeau said. The agriculture department and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) are working hard to resolve the issue based on science.

“We will always stand up for hard working farmers and ranchers,” she said.

Bibeau said Canadian leaders are talking with the Chinese officials who said they found some irregularities in a recent shipment. China’s foreign ministry said on March 6 it took that action due to fear of insect infestation.

Bibeau said in an interview after her speech that Canadian officials have reviewed the samples and analysis and didn’t find anything.

“We are having the conversation with them to demonstrate what they have found,” she said. “Obviously, if there is something we want to know and make a correction.”

As far as Canadian officials know, the Chinese blockage is limited to canola from Richardson International.

“Obviously we are monitoring the situation to see if it has any impact on the industry in a larger way,” Bibeau said.

Trade is critically important to Canada, she said, since nearly half of all Canadian grains are exported. The nation has a target of C$75 billion in agri-food exports by 2025.

In the past 18 months, Canada has signed two trade agreements with some of the top markets in the world, she said, referring to the CPTPP and CETA.

“These agreements are part of Canada’s strategy to diversify our trade,” she said. “We expect to open up C$3.5 billion in exports, including C$780 million in canola alone under CPTPP.”

Strong trade depends on strong innovation, Bibeau said, and in the last year, MacAulay announced federal investment of more than C$75 million in over eight research clusters for the grain and oilseeds industry.

“The bottom line is our government knows that investment in the Canadian grain industry drives prosperity throughout our rural communities and throughout our economy,” Bibeau said. “There is world of opportunity ahead for Canada’s grain industry. The world wants more grains and that’s good news. We’ll continue to work hard to help you capture those opportunities.”