Ottawa has finally decided to issue new restrictions for travelers arriving from overseas, at last. And flights from the Caribbean are now banned. It was time for Ottawa to plug in.
However, these new restrictions represent a new problem for our farmers. We typically hire around 15,000 seasonal Caribbean workers every year to help farmers. It is almost 30% of the workers that we need for our farmers. Hopefully the new restrictions will have no impact on the recall of these workers to us.
The fact that the news falls at the start of winter will help the agricultural sector. The first workers normally arrive at the end of March, beginning of April. Unlike last year, agricultural producers have ample time to organize and plan the necessary flights, tests and the lockdown period for workers who come to us. These workers are essential to the agricultural sector, like it or not.
But farmers could also reconsider the domestic recruitment of Canadians. Although it was difficult last year, the odds of hiring locals may have changed in the last 10 months. The labor market conditions here are very different and there are several now who need to work, period. Since Ottawa has less the means to be as generous as in March and April 2020, it is possible that some city dwellers would be interested in a lifestyle change, in the countryside. These new restrictions may represent an opportune time for the industry to go with a second recruiting drive. Why not.
For the agri-food trade, we can rest easy. The Caribbean is a major supplier of tropical fruits, coffee, rum and other specialty products. We import approximately $ 200 million worth of food from this region per year. At first, the changes brought by Ottawa could disrupt certain logistics plans for some importers. But there is no assumption that the international food trade will be interrupted anytime soon as our North American governments have exercised good judgment since the start of the pandemic. So there is nothing to worry about.