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Trade deal concessions threaten jobs at Kingston, Ont. baby formula plant




The revised North American trade agreement restricts shipments of a product Canada isn’t even exporting at the moment: infant formula.

Why on earth would the U.S. demand that?

As with so many of the strategic priorities of the Trump administration, it’s all about China.

A $225 million investment by Chinese baby food manufacturer Feihe was poised to boost employment in Kingston, Ont., creating about 200 direct jobs and potentially 1,000 more indirectly.

The end of China’s one-child policy increases the demand for safe and reliable supplies of baby food in China, where breastfeeding is less common than in North America.

The quality and price controls offered by Canada’s supply management system were appealing to the Chinese, who planned to use Canadian skim milk products to make new brands. About 85 per cent of the Canadian-made formula was intended for export back to China.

Construction on a 28,000-square-metre plant began last year, and while the project has had some delays, it still planned to start manufacturing infant formula — first from cow’s milk, later from goat’s milk — starting in 2020.

By then, Canada’s revised trade deal with the U.S. might be ratified and in effect. And concessions made in the U.S.–Mexico–Canada Agreement appear to thwart Feihe’s business plan.

Export thresholds lower than factory’s plans

Two aspects of the new USMCA text could affect the viability of the new Kingston facility.

The agriculture annex in the new deal sets export restrictions on infant formula.

Canada agreed that, in the first year after the agreement takes hold, it can export a maximum 13,333 metric tonnes of formula without penalty. In USMCA’s second year, that threshold rises to 40,000 metric tonnes, and increases only 1.2 per cent annually after that.

Each kilogram of product Canada exports beyond those limits gets hit with an export charge of $4.25, significantly increasing product costs.

Documents obtained in 2017 by CBC News under the Access to Information Act included a presentation from the Canadian Dairy Commission that suggested Feihe intended to manufacture 60,000 tonnes of infant food every year in Kingston.

While 10,000 tonnes of that was planned to be a goat’s milk product that would not be subject to the USMCA limits, the rest would be made from cow’s milk supplied by the Dairy Farmers of Ontario. USMCA provisions will apply to any formula « containing more than 10 per cent on a dry weight basis of cow milk solids. »

While the export limits set for the automotive industry elsewhere in the USMCA were comfortably above current and anticipated future production levels, the thresholds in this part of the deal appear below the planned capacity of the Kingston plant.

Many Chinese parents prefer imported baby formula – the legacy of a 2008 tainted milk scandal that made thousands sick and killed six children. Canada’s milk supply was trusted by Feihe International, which is expanding its overseas production of infant formula products destined for the Chinese market. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

Canada wanted to attract investment for a baby formula facility because it uses skim milk as an ingredient.

Healthy consumer appetites for butter leave provincial milk marketing boards with a surplus of skim. Baby formula looked like a smart use for it, and Canada didn’t have any significant infant formula production before Feihe arrived.

Expanding this plant, or building a second infant formula plant somewhere else in Canada, look like less attractive business propositions under this new trade deal.

Class 7 demise affects formula business

The Americans also demanded, and got, an end to Canada’s recent dairy ingredient pricing strategy in the USMCA. 

Farmers and dairy processors had struck an agreement to make their industry more competitive by making it more affordable for Canadian food manufacturers to use skim milk ingredients from Canada instead of the low-cost imported diafiltered or ultrafiltered milk protein products entering Canada tariff-free through a customs loophole.

A new pricing category in Ontario, followed by a national pricing change across Canada (referred to as « class 7 »), set a lower price for dairy ingredients like skim milk that was comparable to the going rate internationally.

In return for not losing business to the U.S. products, farmers agreed to take a hit and receive a lower price than what Canada’s supply management system would otherwise have set for their milk.

The Dairy Farmers of Ontario told CBC News in 2017 that the milk destined for the Kingston facility would be provided based on this lower ingredient price.

But in NAFTA 2.0, Canada agreed to end its ingredient strategy, pleasing both American farmers and the Trump administration, which had turned Canadian dairy pricing into a political cause célèbre.

Once ratified, the USMCA will dictate a price formula for « non-fat solids used to manufacture milk protein concentrates, skim milk powder and infant formula. »

That formula is based on a nonfat dry milk price set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as opposed to some kind of global average calculated by a neutral third party.

Feihe not commenting

Taken together, these two concessions on Canada’s part would appear to undermine the business plan originally laid out by Feihe International, now incorporated for its Ontario operation as Feihe Canada Royal Milk.

« The United States is a major supplier of infant formula to the North American and export markets and sought these commitments to ensure effective disciplines on any potential Canadian exports of this product, » said Katie Hawkins, a spokesperson for Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Lawrence MacAulay, in an email.

CBC News reached out to Feihe for reaction to the new trade deal’s provisions. Spokesperson Yang Zhiwen wrote back, saying only that « we are reviewing the new agreement and at this moment we don’t have [any] comment. »

When Feihe incorporated in Canada, it became eligible for the same government funding programs available to domestic dairy processors. Documents obtained by CBC News last year suggested Feihe was eligible for two federal programs, including a matching investment fund offering non-repayable contributions to companies that innovate. 

No dollar amounts were specified in the non-redacted portion of the documents, making it difficult to estimate how much the Canadian taxpayer already has contributed to building Feihe’s facility.

The province of Ontario also invested $24 million in the Kingston plant through its Jobs and Prosperity Fund.

Future liability?

Canada signed a foreign investment protection agreement with China in 2012. It includes a form of dispute settlement for investors — to be used if a government acts in an arbitrary or otherwise unfair fashion that harms a corporation’s investment.

It’s unknown whether the facts of this situation warrant litigation under this investment treaty, so it remains to be seen whether taxpayers could face an additional cost from a successful lawsuit against the government of Canada.

Public Policy Forum’s Edward Greenspon and former Clerk of the Privy Council Kevin Lynch, discuss the Public Policy Forum’s new report which calls for increased trade with China. 9:31

CBC News asked the Canadian government whether Feihe was consulted during the renegotiation of the North American free trade agreement.

Ministerial spokesperson Hawkins said only that « officials regularly engaged broadly with stakeholders through meetings, roundtables, teleconference calls, and other means. »

Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, reported Wednesday that Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to brief him on the new USMCA.

According to the Chinese report, Freeland told her counterpart that « any free trade agreement should be open, inclusive but not exclusive, and that the USMCA should not harm the rights and interests of other countries. »


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Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme




Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year




In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal




MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.


The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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