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Calls for a code of conduct increased after Loblaw Companies Ltd. and Walmart Canada imposed higher fees on suppliers in recent months.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Canada’s agricultural ministers have given the country’s grocers until the end of the year to propose measures to regulate the industry, in a move lauded by Canada’s second largest grocery retailer to promote fairness in the market.

It comes after the ministers heard a report from a working group created to improve transparency and fair dealings in the grocery industry during a meeting Thursday.

The working group had been established by the government in response to contentious fees being charged to suppliers by grocers Loblaw Companies Ltd. and Walmart Canada

“The set of findings shared today give all Ministers a solid basis of understanding of why an industry-led proposal to improve transparency, predictability, and respect for the principles of fair dealing would be beneficial for the agri-food sector and all supply chain partners,” said federal minister of agriculture Marie-Claude Bibeau.

“We are urging industry to continue their constructive dialogue to develop a concrete proposal designed for the Canadian context that will improve fair dealing in retailer relationships with their suppliers.

The ministers are scheduled to meet next in Guelph, Ont., in September.

Calls for a code of conduct also came after Loblaw, Walmart Canada and Metro Inc. ended temporary pandemic bonus pay programs for employees when lockdown restrictions first eased and shopping behaviour normalized last year.

The chief executive of Sobeys parent company Empire Co. Ltd., which reintroduced its pandemic bonus pay as provinces reinstated lockdowns, lauded the move toward a code for grocery chains.

“We couldn’t be happier with the announcement and the leadership from the FPT Agriculture Ministers,” Michael Medline said in a statement.

“Empire will continue to be an active voice for an enforceable code. It’s time to move with velocity.”

Loblaw did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Metro declined to comment.

In March, Walmart Canada said it didn’t believe that a “complex, legislated, bureaucratic code is necessary.”

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