04/26/2012 11:36 EDT | Updated 06/26/2012 05:12 EDT

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz Defends Travel Expenses


Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, speaking from Morocco, is defending his hefty travel and hospitality expenses.

According to information on spending by federal cabinet ministers, dating to March of 2010, Ritz has accumulated expenses of about $271,000.

"There's a good amount of work to be done out on the global stage," Ritz said Thursday, when asked about his expenses.

Ritz was in Morocco as part of a delegation working on a free trade agreement between Canada and that country.

His overseas trip will take him to Saudi Arabia on Friday.

He added that it was important for him to be present because an in-person meeting can play an important role in negotiations.

"Where it makes sense we'll do it by phone or by Skype, if you will," Ritz said. "But at the end of the day there's nothing like face to face negotiations."

Earlier, an aide to Ritz issued a release to news media noting that Canadian agriculture exports were valued at $44 billion in 2011, a new record.

"This is due, in part, to Agriculture Minister Ritz's steadfast commitment to help farmers earn their money from the marketplace, not the mailbox," Meagan Murdoch, Ritz's director of communications, said. "[T]rade missions are targeted and results-based, led in partnership with industry and provinces to open, re-open and expand Canadian markets for our hard working producers and processors."

Murdoch added that travel is done at "the lowest possible cost to taxpayers."

The communications aide also provided a list of people in the agriculture community who praised the work Ritz has done.

Ritz, the member of Parliament for Battlefords—Lloydminster, just barely edged out Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to claim the top spot for travel expenses among federal cabinet ministers.

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