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MLA vows to fight BC plan to use farm land for foreign trade zone

The British Columbia government is likely eyeing precious agricultural land in the Lower Mainland for one of two proposed foreign trade zones, said independent Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington.

"I believe this government is prepared to forgo the agricultural land reserve for their jobs agenda," said Huntington. "I will fight the further encroachment on the agricultural land . . . I will fight with whatever I've got."

The Tyee reported last week that the provincial government is considering creating two foreign trade zones where companies would be exempt from paying import tariffs. One would combine the port of Prince Rupert and the airport in Prince George. The other would include the Vancouver airport and the Port of Vancouver.

Huntington said recent comments by Port Metro Vancouver CEO Robin Silvester provide context for the Lower Mainland proposal, which would likely require large amounts of land to store or process goods or materials.

On Jan. 25 Silvester riled metro politicians when he told them farmland in the ALR should be sacrificed for port expansion, and last October B.C. Business magazine quoted him saying there should be a "reserve" for industrial land: "Agriculture is emotionally important, but economically [of] relatively low importance to the Lower Mainland. And in terms of food security, [it] is almost meaningless for the Lower Mainland."

"He's the wedge for the government on this issue," said Huntington. "You just know in your gut the province and the port have their eye on [land in the ALR]."

There are already a lot of pressures on the area, which includes the Tsawassen ferry terminal, Deltaport, a mall proposed for Tsawassen First Nation land, railway expansion and the South Fraser Perimeter Road, said Huntington. "We don't know where the end is."

Besides being prime agricultural land and including a salmon nursery, the area is a migratory bird flyway where Canada's greatest concentration of raptors can be found, she said. There is a moral responsibility to protect it, she said, but "nobody in government gives a damn and it's totally irresponsible."

If a foreign trade zone is necessary then it should happen somewhere that is not agricultural land, she said.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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