The volatility of the cattle market in 2016, punctuated by very large and rapid market changes over the past three years, has left many cattle producers on edge as 2017 gets underway. At present, it is somewhat unfortunate that the extreme volatility has overshadowed the positive market situation. The start of 2017 saw calf prices back over $200/cwt and, in some cases, feedlots making over $200/head. Traditionally, this would be considered very strong market conditions, but uncertainty and recent extremely high prices has made keeping perspective difficult.
There’s another source of uncertainty around what the year will bring with our largest trading partner. At time of writing, the inauguration of President Donald Trump on January 20 had yet to occur. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffled his cabinet, signalling that he is preparing for the incoming Trump administration. Former International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland was appointed Canada’s new minister of foreign affairs. François-Philippe Champagne was named the new minister of international trade. Prior to this appointment, he served as the parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance, and has a professional background as a lawyer and international trade specialist. The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) will work to maintain existing relationships and establish strong working relationships with new ministers of importance to the beef industry as the spring session approaches. The CCA will ensure that the interests of Canadian beef producers are advanced regardless of any action on trade agreements President Trump may make now and into the future.
The CCA places a high priority on relationship building with governments, and industry stakeholders and counterparts domestically and internationally. We continue to grow the Canada-U.S. relationship at every opportunity. In January, CCA was part of the Canadian delegation attending the State Agriculture and Rural Leaders (SARL) conference in Baton Rouge. The SARL conference is one of several vehicles CCA has utilized over the years for U.S. agriculture policy discussion and debate. The trip was among a handful of Canada-U.S. relationship-building events CCA attended last month, with meetings at the American Farm Bureau in Phoenix, a Canada/U.S. roundtable in Denver and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association convention in Nashville.
These meetings are an opportunity for CCA to advance its objectives with Americans who have influence. Last month, I wrote about the value of having and maintaining these long-established relationships, in terms of reports that the Trump transition team had included re-instatement of country-of-origin labelling (COOL) as an objective. The CCA was able to leverage relationships with allies who effectively explained to the Trump transition team why COOL is bad policy for the U.S., resulting in its deletion from the Trump trade policy plan. As we continue to monitor the situation, the CCA is taking every opportunity to reinforce the importance of Canada retaining its right to impose retaliatory tariffs if the U.S. reintroduces COOL in a manner that causes renewed discrimination against imported livestock.
The CCA sees an opportunity to work with the new administration on regulatory co-operation as they have signalled their intention to eliminate two regulations for every new one created. This could be an avenue to address some outdated requirements on Canadian live cattle shipments into the U.S.
At the bigger picture level, the movement of Minister Freeland to foreign affairs, and taking with her the responsibility for North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) trade policy, is the Government of Canada’s first move toward ensuring the overall Canada-U.S. relationship is poised to maintain the preferred relationship that NAFTA currently provides, and to identify possibilities to further improve trade opportunities. The CCA also expects the government to encourage industry groups and individual companies to reach out to U.S. counterparts to ensure that all fully appreciate the value of maintaining our close relationship. The CCA is fortunate to already be well advanced at such efforts, but understand that we must never take these relationships for granted.
Another benefit of excellent relations became evident late last year when CCA was asked to participate in the CFIA’s Western Area Emergency Operations Centre regarding the bovine tuberculosis investigation. This is a first from an industry-government collaboration and CCA shared these duties with Alberta Beef Producers. Overall government and industry collaboration is excellent and appreciated.
Of course, relationships with producers here at home are also a priority. Producer meeting season got underway in January. CCA representatives were happy to attend and present a report at several Beef Farmers of Ontario county meetings and the Ontario Cattle Feeders Association meeting. A variety of annual meetings of provincial members and industry stakeholders will also provide CCA with welcome opportunities to touch base with producers. We are also very grateful when the provincial organizations send producers to Ottawa to participate in co-ordinated CCA lobby days with MPs, that we call “fly-ins.”
The CCA’s annual general meeting will be in Ottawa from March 8-10, 2017. The CCA AGM is typically well attended and includes representation from our U.S. industry counterparts and allies. One of the hallmark events of the AGM is the CCA VIP reception, scheduled for the evening of March 8. The CCA reception is always well-received and the guest list includes senators, members of parliament and their staff and other key influencers in Ottawa.
From my perspective, both as a producer and as president of the CCA, there are plenty of reasons for producers to maintain a positive outlook in the months ahead as we navigate through uncertainty together.