It took two trips to Beijing for Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) vice-president David Haywood-Farmer in late 2017, but it paid off with Prime Minister Trudeau and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announcing expanded access for Canadian beef on December 4.
On the first trip, the CCA participated in the Beijing portion of Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Lawrence MacAulay’s 10-day agricultural trade mission to China. Efforts to expand access to include Canadian fresh-chilled beef, and to formalize the documentation to enable bone-in beef trade were the focus of the discussions. Specifically, the CCA took part in a series of meetings to provide input into the protocols for bone-in beef from cattle under 30 months of age (UTM) and for chilled beef as part of the staged access process we are engaged in with China.
The minister’s mission generated much activity on the Chinese side. Followup work continued in the period between the two missions enabling the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Chinese counterparts to proceed with the December announcement of access for fresh-chilled beef in a pilot project, and establishment of the documentation for bone-in access. Previously Canadian beef exports had been limited to frozen boneless beef, with bone-in access approved in principle last year, subject to establishing the documentation requirements. Canada and China also said they are committed to fully implementing the 2016 agreement to expand market access for Canadian frozen bone-in beef.
Even with beef exports limited until now to frozen boneless beef, China has grown in importance as a market for Canadian beef since trade was first authorized in 2012.
China closed to Canadian beef in May 2003 when Canada discovered its first domestic case of BSE. During former Premier Hu’s visit to Canada in 2010, he announced that China would fully reopen to Canadian beef in stages. The first stage was boneless beef from UTM cattle. In 2013, China approved additional Canadian beef export facilities to increase our capacity to serve Chinese beef importers.
As Canadian beef access to China has expanded, so has Canada’s export performance. In 2012, Canada exported $4.7 million. In 2016, $61 million of Canadian beef was exported to China, and the value is on track to approach $100 million in 2017.
Clearly the potential for Canadian beef in China is immense. The Chinese middle class is several times larger than the entire Canadian population and growing, and their demand for beef is growing with it. At a Chinese supermarket, Haywood-Farmer saw packages of single 12-ounce frozen Australian rib-eye steaks selling for approximately C$130.
The work by CCA to prioritize the opening of the Chinese market complements progress in securing the groundwork for improved market access in the Asia Pacific region, notably through the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Strategies to capitalize on opportunities in the EU through the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement are being pursued and of course we continue to be closely involved in the North American Free Trade renegotiations.
The next priority for CCA in China will be to obtain access for offals, gain full system approval of Canada’s federal meat inspection system and negotiate a free trade agreement to eliminate the current 12 per cent duty on Canadian beef. We will continue to work with government to achieve these goals.
Of course, improved access to labour will be a key component for the Canadian beef cattle sector, indeed the entire agriculture value chain, in meeting these goals for agri-food exports as identified in the Barton report which advised the government that the agri-food sector could be one of the greatest job creators in the Canadian economy. Currently, a chronic shortage of workers both at the farm and beef processing level remains a challenge for the beef industry in Canada.
The CCA, along with numerous primary agriculture and processing organizations under the Agriculture and Agri-Food Labour Task Force, have again responded to the Government of Canada’s latest call upon the agriculture sector to submit research that outlines the labour challenges faced by industry with the intention of improving the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. We will be submitting research and recommendations from the Agriculture and Agri-Food Workforce Action Plan into this consultation.
It is crucial that the labour issue is addressed. Opportunities for growth are already being missed at the farm and feedlot level. According to the Conference Board of Canada, $141 million in annual farm cash receipts are lost due to job vacancies at the primary production level of the cattle industry. Workforce shortages are also causing Canadian meat processors to reduce the production of value-added items in Canadian plants and forfeiting lucrative export opportunities. This reduction in competitiveness ultimately affects cattle producers’ bottom line and is a threat to future operations.
Finally, other important groundwork for beef sector sustainability is now coming to fruition. The Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef launched its Certified Sustainable Beef Framework in early December. The Canadian beef industry is again stepping up to do its part to stem antimicrobial resistance through adjusting to new use and access regulations. These changes will ultimately improve industry’s already stellar record of prudent and judicious use of antimicrobials while ensuring animal welfare remains paramount.
The CCA looks forward to continuing the momentum in 2018.