Canada, U.S. farms face crop losses due to foreign worker delays

By Rod Nickel and Christopher Walljasper

WINNIPEG, Manitoba/CHICAGO (Reuters) – Mandatory coronavirus quarantines of seasonal foreign workers in Canada could hurt that country’s fruit and vegetable output this year, and travel problems related to the pandemic could also leave U.S. farmers with fewer workers than usual.

Foreign labor is critical to farm production in both countries, where domestic workers shun the hard physical labor and low pay.

In Canada, where farms rely on 60,000 temporary foreign workers, their arrivals are delayed by initial border restrictions and grounded flights. Once they arrive, the federal government requires them to be isolated for 14 days with pay, unable to work.

In the United States, nearly 250,000 foreign guest workers, mostly from Mexico, help harvest fruit and vegetables each year. The State Department is processing H-2A visas for farm workers with reduced staffing, though some companies are still having a hard time getting workers in on time.

Watermelon and asparagus farmer Mike Chromczak, who is waiting for labourers to arrive and begin their mandatory quarantine against coronavirus disease (COVID-19), poses at Chromczak Farms in Brownsville, Ontario, Canada April 2, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

Ontario farmer Mike Chromczak said he was afraid he might be unable to harvest his asparagus crop next month unless his 28 Jamaican workers start arriving by mid-April.

“It would be well over 50% of our farm’s revenue” lost, Chromczak said. “But I see it as a much bigger issue than me. This is a matter of food security for our country.”

Steve Bamford’s 35 Caribbean workers are just starting to trickle in to his Ontario apple orchards. Then they are isolated and paid for 40 hours per week during that period without touching a tree. Pruning work, a critical step to maximize yields, is now overdue.

“It’s an extreme cost. You don’t plan on bringing people in and not work for two weeks,” Bamford said.

Some Canadian farmers expect to reap smaller fruit and vegetable harvests this year if foreign labor is not available soon, said Scott Ross, director of farm policy at the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

In the United States, “delays are potentially very hazardous to farmers who were counting on that workforce to show up at an exact period of time to harvest a perishable crop,” said Dave Puglia, CEO of Western Growers Association, which represents fruit and vegetable companies in states like California and Arizona.

He said workers in the United States do not have to wait 14 days before they start working, although more efforts are being made to space workers out on the farms.

Dannia Sanchez, president of D & J and Sons Harvesting in Florida, is awaiting approval to bring in some 200 temporary agriculture workers, while blueberries in Florida ripen and Michigan asparagus nears harvest.

Abad Hernandez Cruz, a Mexican farmworker harvesting onions in Georgia, said he is working 12 or more hours a day.

“A lot of people are missing,” he said, referring to farmworkers whose visas weren’t approved after the United States scaled back some consular activities in response to coronavirus.

“If the farm doesn’t produce, the city doesn’t eat.”

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba and Chris Walljasper in Chicago; Editing by David Gregorio)

Canada coronavirus deaths jump by 35% in less than a day: official

OTTAWA (Reuters) – The Canadian death toll from a worsening coronavirus outbreak has jumped by 35% to 89 in less than a day, chief public health officer Theresa Tam told reporters on Tuesday.

By 9 a.m. eastern time (1300 GMT) the total number of those diagnosed with the coronavirus had risen by 15% to 7,708. The respective figures at 1200 ET on Monday were 66 deaths and 6,671 positive diagnoses.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Tokyo 2020 delay looms after Canada and Australia exit

By Steve Keating and Leika Kihara

TORONTO/TOKYO (Reuters) – Major sporting nations Australia and Canada withdrew from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on Monday as organizers faced global pressure to postpone the Games due to the coronavirus crisis for the first time in their 124-year modern history.

Putting back the July 24-Aug. 9 event, as is looking inevitable, would be a massive blow for host Japan which has pumped in more than $12 billion of investment.

Huge sums are also at stake for sponsors and broadcasters.

But a groundswell of concern from athletes – already struggling to train as gyms, stadiums and swimming pools close around the world – appears to be tipping the balance, along with the cancellation of other major sports events.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese government have both edged back from weeks of blanket insistence the Games would go ahead, announcing a month-long consultation over other scenarios including postponement.

The Olympics have never before been delayed, though they were canceled altogether in 1916, 1940 and 1944 during the World Wars, and major Cold War boycotts disrupted the Moscow and Los Angeles Games in 1980 and 1984 respectively.

“The moment the IOC indicates that it is thinking about other solutions, it has already decided to delay the Games,” said French Olympic Committee president Denis Masseglia.

Canada and Australia both bluntly said they would not participate if the Games were not put back to 2021 and Britain may follow suit.

“We are in the midst of a global health crisis that is far more significant than sport,” said Canada’s Olympic Committee (COC) and Paralympic Committee (CPC) in a statement.

“STRESS AND UNCERTAINTY”

“Our athletes have been magnificent in their positive attitude to training and preparing, but the stress and uncertainty have been extremely challenging for them,” said Australia’s Olympics Chef de Mission, Ian Chesterman.

Paralympic athletes were considered at particular risk from the epidemic given some had underlying health problems. More than 14,600 people have died globally from the coronavirus.

Russia urged global sporting authorities to avoid “panic” over the Olympics and U.S. President Donald Trump expressed confidence in Japan to make the “proper” call.

But a raft of other nations and sports bodies piled pressure on the IOC – and its powerful president Thomas Bach, a former Olympic fencing champion – to make a quick decision on postponement.

“The faster the decision the better it is for the entire Olympic movement,” Greece’s Olympic head, Spyros Capralos, a former water polo player, told Reuters.

“I understand where the athletes are coming from … When you cannot train you are stressed, you live in agony which is disastrous. Postponement is inevitable.”

Athletes were sad but broadly supportive of a delay.

“The right choice was made, but it doesn’t make it any easier,” said Canadian world champion swimmer Maggie MacNeil, who was hoping to make her Olympic debut in Tokyo.

“Sometimes you just need a good hug.”

ABE AND BACH UNDER PRESSURE

Japanese authorities seemed to be bowing to the inevitable despite the losses and logistics headaches it would entail.

“We may have no option but to consider postponing,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was hoping for a boom in tourism and consumer spending, told parliament.

The organizing committee was already scaling back the torch relay to avoid crowds, NHK broadcaster said.

Both Japan and the IOC have stressed that calling off the Games entirely is not an option.

But finding a new date could be complicated as the summer 2021 calendar is already crowded, while 2022 will see the soccer World Cup and the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Japanese sponsors, from Toyota Motor Corp to Panasonic Corp, were nervously watching. But Tokyo stocks sensitive to the success of the Olympics surged on Monday, after sharp falls in prior weeks, thanks to expectations of a delay rather than a cancellation.

Ad agency Dentsu Group shares jumped 12%.

Postponement could be a major blow to the IOC’s prestige after weeks of saying the Games would go ahead as planned.

Many athletes already felt disrespected during the Russian doping scandal when Bach ensured Russians could carry on competing, albeit as neutrals. Now his strong grip on the IOC could weaken after various national committees distanced themselves from his stance over Tokyo.

“IOC President Thomas Bach’s stubbornness and arrogance have spectacularly failed in this instance and he has weakened the Olympic movement,” British Olympic gold medal track cyclist Callum Skinner wrote on Twitter.

Bach is up for re-election in 2021.

Global Athlete Group said the IOC’s planned, month-long consultation was irresponsible. “Over the next four weeks the world is going to increasingly shut down, the COVID-19 virus will sadly take more lives, and without a clear answer, athletes are still being indirectly asked to train,” it said.

(Additional reporting by Reuters bureaux worldwide; Writing by Karolos Grohmann and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Nick Macfie, William Maclean)

U.S.-Canada border to close to nonessential travel: Trump

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S.-Canada border will close to nonessential traffic, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted on Wednesday, saying details on the move would be announced later but that it would not affect trade between the two countries.

“We will be, by mutual consent, temporarily closing our Northern Border with Canada to non-essential traffic. Trade will not be affected. Details to follow!” Trump wrote.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Trump says U.S. may give farmers more money until trade deals ‘kick in’

Trump: U.S. may give farmers more aid until trade deals ‘kick in’
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States may give American farmers additional money until trade deals with China, Mexico, Canada and other countries fully go into effect, President Donald Trump said on Friday.

“If our formally targeted farmers need additional aid until such time as the trade deals with China, Mexico, Canada and others fully kick in, that aid will be provided by the federal government,” Trump wrote in a Twitter post entirely in capital letters.

It was not immediately clear how large the aid package would be or how long it would last.

The Trump administration set aside a $16 billion aid package to farmers in 2019, and $12 billion a year earlier. In January, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said farmers should not expect another bailout package in 2020.

Trump is seeking re-election in the Nov. 3 presidential election. Farmers form a key part of his electoral base, but they have been badly bruised by low commodity prices and Trump’s tit-for-tat tariff dispute with China.

The White House declined to comment. The Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Trade Representative’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Last month, Trump signed a trade deal with Canada and Mexico into law, along with a separate Phase 1 accord with China that went into effect in mid-February.

Canada has not yet ratified the deal and experts had been skeptical that China, which had pledged to increase its purchases of U.S. goods by $200 billion over two years, would be able to meet the goal even before a coronavirus outbreak hit the country’s imports and exports.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; editing by Susan Heavey and Bernadette Baum)

Canada sets new speed limits on trains carrying dangerous goods

(Reuters) – Canada on Sunday announced new measures to lower speed limits in trains hauling dangerous goods like diesel, gasoline and chemicals to reduce the risk of derailment, effective immediately.

Trains carrying 20 or more cars with dangerous goods will be limited to 35 miles per hour (56 kph) in metropolitan areas and to 40 mph outside metropolitan areas with no track signals, Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau said https://www.canada.ca/en/transport-canada/news/2020/02/minister-of-transport-updates-ministerial-order-to-reduce-the-risks-of-derailment-of-trains-transporting-dangerous-goods.html in a statement.

Last week, Garneau announced a temporary speed limit after a Canadian Pacific Railway train hauling oil derailed and caught on fire near Guernsey, Saskatchewan, the second such derailment in the area in two months.

For higher risk trains, including those with any combination of 80 or more cars containing dangerous goods, the speed limit will be 30 mph for urban areas and 25 mph for areas with no track signals, the statement added.

Canada’s biggest railway, Canadian National Railway Co, said in a separate statement it supported the decision taken by Canada’s Transport Minister.

(Reporting by Mekhla Raina in Bengaluru; editing by Richard Pullin)

Anti-China sentiment spreads along with coronavirus

By Stanley Widianto and Khanh VU

JAKARTA/HANOI (Reuters) – The coronavirus outbreak has stoked a wave of anti-China sentiment around the globe, from shops barring entry to Chinese tourists, online vitriol mocking the country’s exotic meat trade and surprise health checks on foreign workers.

The virus, which originated in China, has spread to more than a dozen countries, many of them in Southeast Asia which has sensitive relations with China amid concerns about Beijing’s vast infrastructure spending and political clout in the region and sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea.

Authorities and schools in Toronto, Canada, were moved to warn against discrimination towards Chinese Canadians, while in Europe there was anecdotal evidence of Chinese residents facing prejudice in the street, and hostile newspaper headlines.

“Orientalist assumptions plus political distrust plus health concerns are a pretty powerful combination,” said Charlotte Setijadi, and anthropologist who teaches at Singapore Management University.

Chinese authorities have said the virus emerged from a market selling illegally traded wildlife, giving rise to widespread social media mocking of China’s demand for exotic delicacies and ingredients for traditional medicine.

“Stop eating bats,” said one Twitter user in Thailand, the top destination for Chinese tourists. “Not surprising that the Chinese are making new diseases,” another Thai user posted alongside a video clip that showed a man eating raw meat.

“Because your country is beginning (to) spread disease…we do not accept to serve the guest from China,” read a sign in English outside the Danang Riverside hotel in the central Vietnamese city of the same name. Authorities later told the hotel to remove the sign, its manager said in a Facebook post.

Vietnam, which was under Chinese occupation centuries ago and contests Beijing’s sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea, has particularly fraught relations with China.

But it is not alone in the region.

Over 60% of respondents to a poll of Southeast Asian officials, academics and other professionals said in a survey this month that they distrusted China. Nearly 40% said they thought China was “a revisionist power and intends to turn Southeast Asia into its sphere of influence”. The survey did not mention the virus.

The Chinese government said it was determined to contain an epidemic it called a “common challenge facing mankind”.

“Prejudice and narrow-minded words are no good at all,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

TRAVEL BANS

Many countries have imposed visa restrictions on travelers from Hubei province – the epicenter of the virus – while some airlines have suspended all direct flights to mainland China.

But this is not enough for hundreds of thousands of people in South Korea and Malaysia who have signed online petitions urging authorities to ban Chinese from visiting their countries.

In an unusual move, Samal Island in the southern Philippines on Thursday banned not just tourists from China but from all countries affected by the coronavirus to the popular beach spot.

China’s boom in outbound tourism has created a pattern of international travel unprecedented in human history and driven the growth of businesses to serve Chinese travelers around the world. From a trickle in the 1980s, Chinese tourist numbers grew to estimates of more than 160 million in 2019.

In France, whose capital Paris is a major draw for Chinese visitors and which has a significant Chinese population, local Asians created a Twitter hashtag #Jenesuispasunvirus (“I am not a virus”) to report abuse, especially in public transport.

Sun Lay Tan, a 41-year-old manager in the creative industries sector, said the man seated next to him in his Paris subway ride changed seat then put a scarf over his mouth.

“That was really shocking,” said Tan, who was born in France of Chinese and Cambodian origin. “I felt really stigmatized”.

(Reporting by Stanley Widianto in Jakarta, Khanh Vu and Phuong Nguyen in Hanoi, Chayut Setboonsarng in Bangkok, Karen Lema in Manila, Thu Thu Aung in Yangon, Joseph Sipalan in Kuala Lumpur and Josh Smith in Seoul; Caroline Pailliez in Paris and Ben Blanchard; Writing by John Geddie in Singapore; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Trump signs USMCA, ‘ending the NAFTA nightmare’; key Democrats not invited

By Jeff Mason and Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed a new North American trade agreement during an outdoor ceremony at the White House attended by about 400 guests – but not the key Democrats who helped secure congressional passage of the deal.

Trump, on trial in the U.S. Senate on charges of abusing power and obstructing Congress, welcomed Republican senators at the South Lawn event by name. Other guests included lawmakers from around the country, workers, farmers and chief executives, as well as officials from Mexico and Canada, the White House said.

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) will replace the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, including tougher rules on labor and automotive content but leaving $1.2 trillion in annual U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade flows largely unchanged.

“Today, we are finally ending the NAFTA nightmare and signing into law the brand-new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement,” Trump told the crowd. Flanked by a group of American workers wearing hard hats, Trump said the agreement would bolster U.S. economic growth, benefiting farmers, workers and manufacturers.

He said his concerns about NAFTA-triggered outsourcing had triggered his run for the presidency in 2016.

A wide array of business groups welcomed the agreement, which must still be ratified by Canada’s parliament before it can take effect. Mexico has already approved the deal.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking in Ottawa, said his minority government would continue to answer questions posed by various industries and other groups.

“We have questions and we have a process for ratification. I just look forward to getting, getting through it responsibly and rapidly because it’s so important for Canadians,” he said.

NO DEMOCRATS

Excluded from the event were House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal and other Democrats who negotiated with the Trump administration for months to expand the pact’s labor, environmental and enforcement provisions and pave the way for its approval by the Democratic-controlled House.

Trump did not mention the work done by Pelosi or other Democrats on the trade pact, but U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, in his remarks at the ceremony, acknowledged the role that House leaders played in getting the deal done.

The event came as U.S. senators will start to pose questions in Trump’s impeachment trial and ahead of a key vote later this week on whether to allow the calling of witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton.

Trump lashed out against Bolton on Twitter on Wednesday after Bolton wrote in an unpublished book manuscript that the president told him he wanted to freeze $391 million in security aid to Ukraine until Kiev pursued investigations of Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden, a top contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in this year’s election.

Pelosi told reporters that Democrats had ensured “vast improvements” to the USMCA before it was approved, despite their absence from Trump’s White House event, adding, “I hope he understands what he’s signing today.”

Neal told reporters some Republican senators thought the deal was “too Democratic.” He said the final accord won stronger protections for workers, better enforcement of environmental provisions and steps to prevent higher drug prices.

Representative Rosa DeLauro told reporters in a separate teleconference that Democrats would remain vigilant on oversight of the improved trade deal and would fight for even better climate protections in future trade deals.

The U.S. Senate this month overwhelmingly approved legislation to implement the USMCA, sending the measure to Trump for signing into law.

U.S. lawmakers said it was unclear when the accord would take effect, since Canada’s main opposition Conservative Party had expressed concerns about aspects of the deal and there was no exact timeline for ratification there.

Even after Canada ratifies the accord, implementation could take several more months since the three countries must show they are meeting their obligations before the clock starts ticking on an effective date.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, David Shepardson and Alexandra Alper in Washington, and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Dan Grebler and Jonathan Oatis)

Canadians light candles to mourn victims of Iran plane crash

Canadians light candles to mourn victims of Iran plane crash
By Moira Warburton and Rod Nickel

TORONTO/EDMONTON, Alberta (Reuters) – Canadians held candlelight vigils in several cities on Thursday to remember 63 citizens killed in a plane crash in Iran, in what Canada’s prime minister called a “tragedy that shocked the world.”

Canada has been in mourning since Wednesday’s crash of the Ukraine International Airlines flight bound for Kiev from Tehran that killed all 176 people aboard. It was the largest loss of life among Canadians since an Air India flight blew up in 1985 over the Atlantic Ocean, killing 268 people from Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, citing intelligence sources, said on Thursday the Ukraine airlines plane was likely brought down by an Iranian missile. He added the airliner’s destruction “may well have been unintentional.” Iran denied reports the plane was hit by a missile.

The crash occurred hours after Iran fired ballistic missiles at two military bases in Iraq hosting U.S. troops, and when Iranians were on high alert for a U.S. military response.

“What happened yesterday was a tragedy, a tragedy that shocked not only Canada, but the world,” Trudeau told a news conference. He has said 138 people on the plane were connecting to a flight to Canada.

The flight was a popular transit route for Canadians traveling to Iran, in the absence of direct flights, and carried many students and academics heading home from the holidays.

In Toronto, where a crowd of more than 100 attended a vigil, some two dozen people with connections to Canada’s largest city died in the crash. They included a young couple and their toddler daughter, along with teachers and students.

“It was unbelievable to me at first,” said Vahid Golshaeian, 41, a construction contractor attending the vigil. “Almost all of us had a friend or knew somebody. Innocent people.”

People ranging in age from children to the elderly lit candles and shared figs stuffed with walnuts.

On Parliament Hill in Ottawa, mourners arranged candles on the ground in the shape of a heart. Braving chilly weather, they set photos of loved ones in front of the site’s Centennial Flame monument.

Mourners also gathered in Montreal, the home of two newlyweds who were among those from Quebec killed in the crash.

In the western Canadian city of Edmonton, a memorial was planned for Sunday in a sports facility. Thirty people from the Alberta capital died, accounting for nearly half of Canada’s death toll.

The University of Alberta alone lost 10 people with connections to the institution. Grief counselors visited the campus on Thursday and mourners left flowers at the office door of a professor who died.

Two married professors, two students and a recent graduate – all from the university’s engineering department – died in the crash.

“We are very tight-knit and everyone has been very affected by this,” said Steven Heipel, an assistant dean of engineering.

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto and Rod Nickel in Edmonton, Alberta; Editing by Peter Cooney)

U.S. Senate panel advances North American trade deal, final vote timing uncertain

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate Finance Committee overwhelmingly approved the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on Tuesday, moving the revamped North American trade deal a step closer to a final Senate vote in the coming days or weeks.

The committee advanced the USMCA implementing legislation by a 25-3 vote, drawing opposition from Republican senators Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

The timing of a long-delayed final U.S. congressional vote to approve the trade pact remains uncertain, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said its consideration would likely have to wait until after a Senate trial over the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

The trade deal, first agreed in October 2018 and revised last month, aims to modernize and broaden the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Trump’s Senate trial is also in limbo, because House Democrats have not yet sent articles of impeachment approved in December to the Senate as the two parties argue over terms of the proceedings.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley earlier told CNBC http://bit.ly/36vNLSN television USMCA would “pass the Senate sometime within the next few days or at the most the end of this month.”

Following the Senate panel’s vote, Grassley said the timing was up to McConnell, but articles of impeachment would take precedence over USMCA. A vote could occur quickly as there was little other legislation to stand in its way, he added.

The Senate’s parliamentarian has directed other some other committees to consider the legislation, which could delay a floor vote slightly, but Grassley said those panels were expected to quickly approve the trade deal.

“The intent is for the leader to get them to move quickly,” Grassley added.

The finance committee’s vote indicates broad bipartisan support for USMCA, which includes new chapters covering digital trade, stronger intellectual property protections and new requirements for automakers to use more parts and materials sourced in the region and from high-wage areas, notably the United States and Canada.

Toomey, an ardent free trade Republican, objected to the new automotive content rules, saying they were “designed to raise the cost to American consumers of buying Mexican-made cars.”

“It’s the first time we are ever going to go backwards on a trade agreement,” Toomey said during the committee’s debate.

Cassidy complained that the agreement weakens NAFTA’s investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, which will deter big projects such as a gas pipeline from the United States to Mexico.

Whitehouse, an ardent environmentalist, said he objected to USMCA because the trade deal does not mandate any action to fight global warming and rising sea levels.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Tom Brown)