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Wait times for import permit system grow shorter

Industry is satisfied for now that the CFIA is genuine in its effort to address inefficiencies that have been creating backlogs in issuing import permits through its new Centre of Administration (CoA).

The CoA opened April 1, 2014, as a single point for commercial operators and travellers to apply for domestic and import permits, licences and registrations for food, plants, animals and byproducts, including specified risk materials.

It wasn’t long before the phones started ringing at Canadian Beef Breeds Council (CBBC) and Canadian Livestock Genetics Association (CLGA) offices with complaints from anxious producers waiting to get their import permits for breeding stock, semen and embryos.

CLGA executive director Michael Hall says complaints went into high gear from December through May because the import permit issue affects so many people from those involved in beef cattle to baby chicks and all species in between. In some cases a delayed import permit compromises animal welfare.

It used to be that CFIA regional veterinarians handled import permits and beef producers could have a permit in hand in a matter of a few hours to a few days.

This year, Jack Bremner of Dauphin, Man., purchased a $42,000 bull in South Dakota, applied for an import permit through the CoA on April 9 and waited 22 days to get it.

“This delay cost me a lot of money in delayed calving dates for my cows that I wanted to breed to the new bull. I also bred some cows to an inferior herd bull in order to have them calve early,” says Bremner, who wants to give others a heads-up that the system has changed.

Uncertainty over when the permit will come through makes it difficult to arrange transportation and delays are equally as frustrating for exporters waiting to ship animals, says another producer who handles around 30 import permits a year. He had to endure waits as long as 40 days at the worst and a half-million dollars’ worth of cattle waiting for import permits at one point in time.

Another concern, says CBBC executive director Michael Latimer, is that the health documents U.S. producers require to export animals may expire before the Canadian import permit is issued. Most blood test results are good for 30 days, but the countdown starts from the time the sample is drawn. Both the paperwork and animals have to pass inspection at the border.

The CFIA, in a written statement, explains that the backlog is due to a very high volume of imports and ongoing animal disease outbreaks. The agency says permit applications are dealt with on a first-in-first-out basis and exceptions, though rare, are made on a case-by-case basis, as when permits are amended to account for a change to animal disease status and humane transportation issues. About 10,000 permits are issued annually.

Hall says a recent industry-government meeting with CFIA president Bruce Archibald and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz did help to bring this situation to their attention.

“Once they understood the gravity and implications of delays, they made some changes and did what they could to get rid of the backlog by adding more staff and moving some items out of the queue so there’s not so many at the busiest times,” Hall says. “I think we are over the hurdle this year. My concern is next year. We won’t know until February-March when applications really start to pick up again.”

As of late May CFIA noted processing times for simple import applications was on target at five to 10 business days or less. Imports of food, plants, animals and their byproducts typically slow during the summer.

Hall agrees delays were less than seven days for livestock, semen and embryos, which is manageable for producers while still leaving room for improvement.

In order to keep tabs on the CFIA’s future performance Latimer says industry associations require documentation from importers, not just angry phone calls. “All we can do now is monitor,” he says. “The CFIA president and Minister Ritz have committed to improvement but we don’t have real-world evidence to show them that the process has improved or hasn’t improved.”

Everyone agrees the old system worked well, which raises the question, why was it necessary to change to a centralized system for import permits?

The CFIA says the single entry point makes more effective use of CFIA technical and specialist expertise. CoA staff are the front line contacts who handle inquiries. offer assistance in completing applications, as well as process and file applications in the national registries. That frees up the CFIA inspectors to do the inspections as required and pass their decisions on to the CoA.

Industry can see advantages in the long run to this system, particularly if it gets to the point where it’s a seamless, electronic process using electronic health papers (now in the works) and runs on the same platform as Canadian Border Services.

In the meantime, the switch has caused producers extra worries and money, says Latimer. The message for producers is to be prepared for delays in receiving import permits and to keep in touch with the CoA on wait times.

Inquiries can be made by email at [email protected] or calling 1-855-212-7695 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The CoA says it will reply within three business days.

Plan on up to 10 business days for simple applications and longer for complex ones that require inspection, risk assessment or a document review.

The import permit application is available online or from the CoA. Completed applications can be submitted by mail, email or fax (289-247-4068).

The Automated Import Reference System (AIRS) is an online question-and-answer guide that walks users through import permit requirements, including codes, origin, destination, end use and other qualifiers for the product to be imported. For more information visit the AIRS website.

For more information visit the CFIA website.

When you get right down to it, an import permit is just a piece of paper, leading some producers to question whether it is even necessary seeing the health tests are done by the exporter and the animals are inspected at the border. The official answer is import permits give the government more flexibility in dealing with regional disease issues. When, for example, there is an outbreak in a specific state, instead of closing the border to all imports, the import documents can identify animals that haven’t been in that state and clear them for entry into Canada.

The U.S. outbreak of vesicular stomatitis is a case in point. It is a reportable disease of horses, ruminants and swine in Canada because symptoms resemble those of foot-and-mouth. There hasn’t been a case diagnosed here since 1949. But horses, cattle and swine, whether originating in the U.S. or returning to Canada, can enter Canada so long as they do not originate from a state reporting cases of vesicular stomatitis.

The CFIA recommends avoiding states affected by vesicular stomatitis when transporting susceptible animals to Canada. If this isn’t possible, the transporter must ensure that animals aren’t off-loaded from or added to the shipment and that the shipment doesn’t enter any premises where horses, donkeys, mules, cattle, swine, sheep, goats, llamas or alpacas are present.

As of August 12, the USDA reported 107 premises are still under quarantine for vesicular stomatitis in five states: Colorado, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. The weekly situation report is available on the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website.

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