Blog: Andy CoyneEarly skirmishes in the Ketchup War

Andy Coyne | 2 July 2018

In the 1970s a squabble between the UK and Iceland over fishing rights in the North Atlantic earned the somewhat hyperbolic name of the Cod War.

A trade spat between the US and Canada may, in its early stages at least, be seen as the Ketchup War.

President Trump's 'America first' policy has seen the US implement a tariff on steel and aluminium imported from Canada (as well as the EU and Mexico) and Ottawa has, as expected, retaliated in kind.

But Canada has also imposed a 10% tariff on a raft of other US exports including many food items.

And it is the tax on tomato ketchup which is raising eyebrows.

Surely it was no coincidence Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave his Canada Day speech on the day his country's retaliatory tariffs came into force at the Highbury Canco tomato canning and food processing operation in Leamington, Ontario,

Tomatoes processed here are used in French's tomato ketchup, which is produced in Canada, but Leamington is also the town where four years ago the then HJ Heinz closed its local ketchup plant with the loss of 750 Canadian jobs.

In terms of interpreting symbolism, this wasn't exactly the Da Vinci Code. Support companies which support the Canadian economy, PM Trudeau was clearly saying.

French's, itself a US company of course, teases the now Kraft Heinz by stating that the tomatoes used in its ketchup (sold locally) are Canadian. It took advantage of Heinz leaving town by setting up a ketchup production plant in Toronto to manufacture the sauce for the local market.

The whole thing might be seen as storm in a ketchup bottle, perhaps, if it wasn't for the fact Kraft Heinz has chosen to become embroiled in the row or “opening a new front in the ketchup wars” as one US-based reporter excitedly put it.

Having taken a public relations kicking when it moved its ketchup production to the US in 2014, the company has launched a charm offensive highlighting its Canadian connections.

"We are a good corporate citizen, and truly part of the Canadian fabric," said Av Maharaj, vice president of corporate affairs at Kraft Heinz Canada.

"We don't think the tariffs imposed by Mr. Trump were particularly fair to Canada, and neither do we think that the reciprocal tariffs that were imposed are equally fair." 

It argues the 10% tariffs it faces are unwarranted because it produces many other items in Canada, such as peanut butter, and employs more than 2,000 workers in the country.

Such details, alas for Kraft Heinz, are often overlooked in the fog of war - ketchup, cod or otherwise.

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