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Looking For Good News On Exports

One needs to remain optimistic that things will improve

Ted Haney, president of Canada Beef Export Federation, offers up some positive signs on the export front in this issue. It’s always good to look for a half-full glass but no one should be deluded into thinking the climb back will be an easy one. The new federal market access secretariat, when it is hits the road, and CBEF have plenty of hurdles still to jump over to regain our former status on the world stage.

One place to start would be better statistics. After comparing actual sales results of its members to the Stats Canada export data, CBEF has abandoned the official stats altogether in favour of local data from importing countries. By the way, Canada’s import numbers are dead on, says Haney. This is an unacceptable situation for a country that is so dependent on exports.

At this point CBEF’s goal is to just get back to where we were in 2002, when we had much greater access to the big markets outside of the U.S. such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China.

Exports to Japan peaked in 2001 at 29,000 tonnes. Move ahead to 2008 and the number drops to 5,397 tonnes. That seems such a small amount at first glance but it’s 42 per cent more than the year before, and shipments in the first half of 2009 were running ahead of 2008. So we’re moving in the right direction despite a lack of available age-verified cattle.

Japan opened to boneless and bone-in beef and offal from cattle under 21 months of age on Dec. 12, 2005. In May of this year the Government of Canada made a formal request to the Government of Japan to expand access for Canadian beef to include all edible products (boneless, bone-in and offal) derived from cattle less than 30 months old (UTM). (Up until then we had been adhering to a U.S. policy of full OIE access or nothing.) To date, Japan’s Food Safety Commission has yet to call a prion expert panel to initiate its risk assessment process.

For a time it looked like the U.S. was going to succeed to pressuring Japan to accept a 30-month rule on their shipments which might have opened a door for Canada. But those hopes appear to have been dashed by the first election of the liberal-leaning Democratic Party of Japan in late August.

The DPJ took some strong stands on food and beef imports in the past but Haney says the party did come out with a more balanced platform right before the election. Food prices are certainly a concern with their largely urban voter base, and that should favour easier import policies. But CBEF is pressing for more government intervention to move the access issue along. (For more on the controlled meat trade in Japan read Paul Sinclair’s article in this issue.)

South Korea is an even greater sore spot for Canadians. Our sales peaked at 21,000 tonnes in 2000 and went to zero in May, 2003 where they remain to this day. On Aug. 31 the WTO began assembling a dispute panel to hear Canada’s complaints over S. Korea’s continuing ban on Canadian beef.

The U.S. officially obtained full OIE-compliant access to Korea for all edible beef products derived from all ages of cattle in May 2008. In order to address political turmoil associated with this decision, the U.S. and Korean governments created a “voluntary” restriction to exclude trade in over 30-month beef products but Haney says it can be removed at any time that the two governments agree to do it.

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz formally requested a firm process to restart this trade in February this year. In March Korea indicated a willingness to resume technical negotiations by late June. By early April with nothing happening, Canada formally requested consultations. One meeting was held in July but nothing was resolved so now Canada will puts it case to a dispute settlement panel. The Korean government seems to realize the risks it is taking by going this route but seems willing to pay any price to avoid setting off another round of protests over foreign imports of beef. If they lose they could be forced to grant full OIE access to Canada.

The bright spot so far has been Macau, which started importing UTM boneless beef in November 2004 then stepped up to bone-in UTM cuts in March this year, and boneless beef, rib cuts and offal from all ages of cattle in June. The final phase in will cover bone-in over-30 month (OTM) beef. Remarkably, exports to Hong Kong and Macau peaked in 2005 at 20,000 tonnes. With the financial crisis sales slipped back to 17,675 tonnes last year but with access assured exporters can look for real growth in this market over time.

Everywhere you look there are hills to climb, but there is no going back now.

About the author

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Gren Winslow

Gren Winslow is a past editor of Canadian Cattlemen.

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