Economic Strategy Table - Agri-Food

Positioning Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sectors for long-term growth.


Murad Al-Katib, AGT Food & Ingredients

Murad Al-Katib is President and CEO of Saskatchewan-based AGT Food and Ingredients Inc., a global supplier of staple products, food ingredients and products made from grains and pulses such as lentils, peas, beans and chickpeas. He is known as a leader who consistently balances social responsibility with profitability. He was the recipient of the 2017 Oslo Business for Peace Award for successfully providing 700 million refugee meals to the United Nation's Syrian refugee program.


  • Robert Coallier, Agropur Dairy Cooperative
  • Sarah Davis, Loblaws
  • Marie-Pier Drouin, Joly Drouin et Filles
  • Bryana Ganong, Ganong Bros., Limited
  • Richard Harry, R Harry Fishing Ltd.
  • John Heimbecker, Parrish & Heimbecker
  • Robert Irving, Cavendish Farms
  • Shelley Martin, Nestlé Canada
  • Michael McCain, Maple Leaf Foods Inc.
  • Lee Moats, LLAMM Acres Ltd.
  • Susan Niczowski, Summer Fresh Salads Inc.
  • Ian D. Smith, Clearwater Seafoods Inc.
  • Ratana Stephens, Nature’s Path Foods Inc.
  • Alison Sunstrum, GrowSafe Systems Ltd.

Federal representatives

  • Chris Forbes, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada
  • John Knubley, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada

Producer Advisory Council

The producer advisory council will help inform the work of the Agri-Food Table.

  • Gary Baars
  • Mark Brock
  • Jack Froese
  • Kristjan Hebert
  • Stephanie Levasseur
  • Cedric Macleod
  • Jeanette Mongeon
  • Rene Roy
  • Nick Sekulic
  • Teresa Van Raay


October 24, 2017 Location: Woodbridge, Ontario


The table affirmed the need to look at the agri-food sector as a whole (including primary agriculture, fish, seafood, aquaculture, food processing, infrastructure and food service ) in order to ensure a comprehensive and coordinated approach to its future growth.

What we talked about

  1. Participants spoke positively to the potential of the Canadian sector to help meet growing global demand for food. They also brought their unique perspectives to the table on the challenges facing the industry to be a sector of accelerated growth.
  2. Building upon introductory presentations on the state of play of Canadian innovation and the issues facing the agri-food sector, the table discussed the need for innovation in the sector, both to be at the leading edge of global competitors but also to meet consumers’ changing expectations of food and food products. The table also noted that Canada can be risk averse in developing and adopting innovations.
  3. Initial targets that were discussed include increasing exports, with a reference to the $75 billion ambitious growth target for 2025 set out in the Advisory Council on Economic Growth report, as well as increasing the amount of value added domestically to Canadian agricultural products.
  4. In discussing the competitive landscape, the table was interested in further exploring i) benchmarking Canada’s innovation output and rate of technology adoption against other global leaders, ii) analyzing infrastructure requirements to support capacity growth, iii) exploring strategies to increase scale-up of firms and support industry leaders in competing globally, and iv) finding opportunities for a regulatory approach that supports growth.

What we'll do next

  • Analytics to dive deeper into exploring how other countries have addressed these issues and reflect on these considering the unique Canadian experience while recognizing the different competitive pressures within the broad agri-food sector.
  • Advisory councils will be established with key stakeholders to inform the table’s work. The table will continue to encourage industry participants and all Canadians to share their views and ideas for transformative change in the sector throughout the course of this initiative, via the Economic Stratety Tables website and targeted outreach.

As the leader of a Canadian company with strong domestic roots, I think we are at a critical point in time in terms of the opportunities for our agri-food sector.

Agri-Food Table Member, October 24, 2017
December 12, 2017 Location: Toronto, Ontario


The Agri-Food Table held its second meeting on December 12 in Toronto, Ontario. The main focus of the meeting was to refine elements of the vision statement and identify the priority themes that will drive the Table’s future work.

What we talked about

  1. Dominic Barton, Chair of the Minister of Finance’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth, spoke to the Table about the vision for Canada’s agri-food sector and the opportunities for economic growth being driven by population growth and a bourgeoning middle-class, particularly with regard to protein and value-added products. This led to a discussion highlighting the diversity of markets and consumer products, the importance of tailoring growth strategies according to consumer demand and Canada’s competitive advantages, and the need to synchronize government policy and regulations accordingly.
  2. Members reviewed the thematics proposed at the first Table meeting on October 24, and, in light of the morning’s discussions, coalesced on the priority themes that will drive the Table’s forward work: i) innovation and value-added opportunities, ii) technology and digitization, iii) infrastructure and regulations, iv) market access and export growth, and v) skills and labour.
  3. Members emphasized the need to be competitive. This can be accomplished by a business environment that keeps production costs competitive, but also by strategies such as product differentiation, reputation and branding, or pursuing markets for premium products.
  4. The Table discussed challenges to attract and retain workforce, and the impacts technology and automation will have for both the supply and demand of skills in the future.

What we'll do next

  • A vision statement based on outcomes of the Table's discussions will be drafted.
  • Additional analysis will be undertaken to explore the sectors and markets that have driven growth in the Canadian agri-food sector in recent years, along with global and domestic demand forecasts. A list of key government initiatives that are of relevance to the Agri-Food Table's work will also be provided.
  • The Producer Advisory Council will meet on December 18 and on January 15 in order to discuss the technology/digitization and market access/export growth themes, which will be the focus of the Table's next meeting on January 18.

Synchronization between our industrial growth strategies and the government’s policy and regulatory agenda is crucial to success.

Agri-food Table Member, December 12, 2017
January 18, 2018 Location: Toronto, Ontario


The Agri-Food Table held its third meeting on January 18 in Toronto, Ontario. The Table advanced its vision statement, discussed the elements of a competitive regulatory environment, defined bottlenecks and explored preliminary solutions to promote technology adoption and export growth.

What we talked about

  1. A revised vision statement was considered by members. The discussion centred on what kind of agri-food sector Canada wants for itself in 2025, and which elements will seed the creation of a growth strategy that captures the opportunities ahead.
  2. Following the release of the Third and Final Report of the Minister of Finance’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth in December 2017, Andrew Pickersgill, Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company Canada, delivered a presentation on the impacts of regulation on competitiveness and the overall business climate. This presentation was a prelude to the in-depth discussion on regulations which will take place at the next Table meeting in March.
  3. The Table’s champions for the technology & digitization theme presented their experiences with developing and adopting technology. This led to a roundtable discussion in which members shared their experiences with technology and the key barriers to adoption they face, such as the need for scale for investments to be profitable and challenges to hiring employees with the right skill sets.
  4. The Table’s champions for the market access & export growth theme presented their experiences breaking into new markets and growing their foreign presence. This led to a roundtable discussion with members on the key elements needed by firms as they prepare to make the jump to exporting, and strategies that would put more Canadian firms in a position to seize global opportunities. Members also acknowledged the importance of the domestic market, and not overlooking this opportunity for sector growth.

What we'll do next

  • The vision statement will be revised to reflect feedback from Table members.
  • Additional analytic material will be provided to Table members to contextualize different growth targets and develop possible scenarios for how they could be achieved.
  • The Producer Advisory Council will meet in February to provide input on the three themes that will be addressed at the March Table meeting: i) innovation and new value-added opportunities, ii) infrastructure and regulations, and iii) skills and labour.

The potential for technologies like artificial intelligence and predictive analytics in the agri-food sector is immense, particularly for things like on-time delivery of perishable goods.

Agri-food Table Member, January 18, 2018
March 6, 2018 Location: Toronto, Ontario


The Agri-Food Table held its fourth meeting on March 6 in Toronto, Ontario. The Table drafted and further refined its proposals for technology, market access, innovation, regulations, infrastructure, and skills.

What we talked about

  1. The Table’s discussion on regulations included both a presentation on the guiding principles that should drive any systemic reforms, as well as examples of specific regulations that are creating barriers to commerce. Paul Glover, President of the CFIA, outlined the CFIA’s current priorities and regulatory reform efforts, and encouraged members to use the Agri-Food Table to bring forward their ideas.
  2. There was strong support for developing a “smart” infrastructure system that can fully exploit the opportunities of data analytics and enable efficiencies both up and down the supply chain. The importance of long-term planning with innovative public-private solutions to financing, development, and asset management were also acknowledged.
  3. The Champions for the innovation theme spoke to their companies’ experiences building a culture of innovation and pursuing value-added markets. This led to a roundtable discussion on how to best support product and process innovation in the agri-food sector, including the role of technology innovation hubs.
  4. The Table’s discussion on skills and labour covered issues with employee recruitment and retention, the bottlenecks to accessing high-skill, technical, and low-skill workers, and ensuring a right match of skills to complement shifts to automation. There was consensus that the agri-food sector needs to better promote the range of career opportunities and work with the education system to match labour needs with people entering the workforce. Members also supported exploring potential proposals to improve inclusiveness in the sector, including greater participation by women and aboriginals.
  5. The Table continued advancing its vision and incorporated strategic imperatives, which include the conditions that must be present in order for success to be achieved. Members also discussed the declining share of the domestic market that Canada’s agri-food firms are capturing, and committed to developing a growth target to increase success of Canadian firms in Canada.

What we'll do next

  • The Champions will meet via conference call on April 3 to refine the Agri-Food Table’s proposals
  • An all-members meeting of all six Economic Strategy Tables is scheduled for April 11. Members will have the opportunity to collaborate on horizontal initiatives common to multiple Tables.
  • The Agri-Food Table’s next face-to-face meeting is scheduled for May 3.

Innovation is not an opportunity; it is a deliberate process we build into every aspect of our company’s operations.

We can maintain Canada’s excellent reputation for food safety and still find regulatory efficiencies.

Agri-food Table Member, March 6, 2018
May 3, 2018 Location: Toronto, Ontario


The agri-food table held its fifth meeting on May 3 in Toronto, Ontario. Members discussed details of the Table’s proposals, including how specific policies, programs and industry-led actions could be designed and implemented.

What we talked about

  1. The Agri-Food Table received an update on how their proposals are aligning with those of the other five Economic Strategy Tables, and how these horizontal signature initiatives could come together in overarching recommendations.
  2. A representative from Infrastrucuture Canada was on hand to present an update on the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB). Members had the opportunity to ask questions about the CIB’s mandate, governance structure and the types of projects that may be eligible for funding.
  3. Members discussed the relationship between regulations and market access, both internationally (e.g., international standards setting bodies, non-tariff trade barriers, etc.) as well as domestically (e.g., restrictions on the interprovincial movement of goods, different production system standards between provinces, etc.), and critical areas to recommend action.
  4. Innovation was a recurring theme throughout the day, with members discussing both the value of current government offerings (e.g., innovation programs, tax incentives, etc.) and how to improve them. They also discussed the appropriate balance the Table should take in its recommendations to ensure they are both ambitious and long-term while kickstarting sector growth immediately and showing results in the short-term.
  5. Strategies for building a workforce for the future agri-food sector were discussed. Key topics included increasing employment opportunities among youth and urban audiences, the value of mentorship programs, attracting and retaining workers across all skill levels, and increasing diversity.

What we'll do next

  • Specific details of the Agri-Food Table’s proposals will be drawn up based on today’s discussion.
  • Seek opportunities to combine Agri-Food Table proposals with similar proposals from other Tables into horizontal signature initiatives.
  • The Agri-Food Table’s final face-to-face meeting is scheduled for June.

Adressing labour shortages will be critical to achieving our growth targets; we need to show the next generation of workers there are great career opportunities in the agri-food sector across all skill levels

Agri-food Table Member, May 3, 2018
June 5, 2018 Location: Toronto, Ontario


The Agri-Food Table held its final face-to-face meeting on June 5 in Toronto, Ontario. A select number of stakeholder groups from various sub-sectors were invited for the morning session to hear the Table’s recommendations and share their views.

What we talked about

  1. The meeting began with the Chair and Table members providing an overview of the work they have undertaken over the past several months. Stakeholders heard about the key bottlenecks facing the sector and the conditions that need to be in place for success, and were given a walk-through of the Table’s vision statement and proposals.
  2. A roundtable discussion and Q&A followed in which stakeholders provided their candid feedback on the Table’s vision statement and proposals. Table members and invited guests all spoke about the importance of maintaining momentum once the Table’s Final Report is released, and strategies to implement the proposals effectively. Overall, stakeholders collectively endorsed the suite of recommendations and the direction it will take Canada’s agri-food sector, and thanked the Table for the opportunity to provide their feedback
  3. The second half of the meeting was a members-only session where stakeholders’ comments were reviewed and considered. The Table discussed ways to incorporate their feedback to strengthen its proposals. Members also discussed the latest developments on the horizontal signature initiatives being put forward by multiple Economic Strategy Tables.
  4. Members were asked to take note of potential engagement opportunities to seek feedback from other sector stakeholders as the Table’s proposals are finalized and the Final Report is drafted over the summer months.

What we'll do next

  • The Secretariat supporting the Agri-Food Table will work with the Chair, members, and senior federal representatives to find opportunities to reach out to key stakeholders and obtain feedback on the Table’s recommendations, similar to this morning’s session.
  • Staff will begin translating the Table’s recommendations into a comprehensive report and circulate a draft to members for comment.
  • The Secretariat will keep the Agri-Food Table apprised of feedback received during any subsequent stakeholder engagement over the summer months, and timelines for release of the Final Report.

Do we want to accept the limitations of our vast geography and harsh climate, or will we view these as challenges to be conquered on our path to becoming a world leader in agri-food?

Agri-food Table Member, June 5, 2018
February 20, 2019 Location: WebEx Conference


On February 20th, 2019, the Agri-Food Economic Strategy Table (AFEST) held its seventh meeting. The focus of the meeting was to provide an update on the implementation of AFEST recommendations since the release of the Fall Economic Statement in November 2018. The Table also discussed priorities for the next meeting cycle

What we talked about

  1. The Chair opened the discussion by highlighting the engagement work done by table members since the release of the report in September 2018. Members confirmed that these sessions revealed strong sectoral support for the reports’ recommendations and a strong willingness from industry to be involved in implementation.
  2. Table members were briefed on how their report influenced the Fall Economic Statement and were particularly pleased to note that several actions responded directly to their recommendations. On regulations, this included the announcement of an external advisory committee on regulatory competitiveness, a centre for regulatory innovation and an annual regulatory modernization bill. On competitiveness, this included an Accelerated Investment Incentive to encourage capital investments. On innovation, members were pleased to see an additional financial commitment of $800 million dollars for the Strategic Innovation Fund and the subsequent announcement of a stream 4 competition for agriculture projects applying automation and digital technologies. Members were happy to see early commitments but expressed their eagerness to see continued progress on the remaining recommendations.
  3. The Chair reiterated the value of continuing to work collaboratively with industry through the Economic Strategy Tables over the long-term. Lastly, he thanked members for their commitment throughout the first meeting cycle, acknowledging the extensive time and energy CEOs had given to accelerate Canada’s economic growth.

What we'll do next

  • Members will continue to engage with the broader sector and explore opportunities to continue advancing key recommendations.

Very pleased with progress; the Government took the theme of competitiveness seriously by addressing the regulatory and tax barriers. As we look forward now, it is all about continued action.

Agri-food Economic Strategy Table Member, February 20th, 2019