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The door to Europe isn’t quite open yet

The EU trade deal is now a go, but ‘very few producers’ have signed up for a program that makes their cattle eligible

The European Union has the potential to be a big marketplace for Canadian beef producers, but it’s going to take some effort to get them here.

“We are concerned that to date very few producers are enrolling their cattle in the EU program,” the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association said in a recent edition of its e-newsletter.

“We believe that most are taking a wait-and-see approach to whether the access to the EU market will be genuine and whether the prices for EU-eligible cattle will justify the expense of raising them.”

There are a few reasons for the slow uptake, said Doug Sawyer, a Pine Lake-area cow-calf operator and backgrounder who is vice-chair of foreign trade with the CCA.

Doug Saywer
photo: Supplied

“One is that we haven’t got the technical trade barriers with the EU worked out yet to actually move the volume that we’re allowed to,” he said.

One of those barriers has to do with processing, as Canadian plants use a citrus wash and an acid wash that is not approved by Europe.

“We’ve got to get some of those types of things worked out in order to be able to take advantage of that market,” said Sawyer.

Another reason is a lack of Canadian Food Inspection Agency veterinarians certified to handle the program and get producers on board.

“You have to have your farm certified prior to your calves being born to get them into that marketplace,” said Sawyer, adding the cost of verification comes out of the producer’s pocketbook. “It does cost us more money to be under their requirements than what it does in our normal production system.”

Still, the EU is an extremely valuable market, estimated to be worth as much as $600 million annually to Canadian beef producers.

Sawyer isn’t selling into the European Union yet, but his cattle are EU verified.

“I’m optimistic that by next year’s cow crop, we’ll be eligible and there will be a growing market for them there,” he said.

The European Union also has strict guidelines about hormones and implants, but Sawyer says that’s not a major concern to Canadian cattle producers because most don’t use these products.

“Producers who don’t, like myself, can be on the system and it doesn’t cost us anything but the certification process,” he said.

If the market sends a strong price signal, more producers will come on board, he added.

“If the money is there, we’ll be standing right there.”

The Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA), which came into effect Sept. 21, has an initial duty-free quota of 9,300 tonnes of fresh beef and 2,500 tonnes of frozen beef. That will increase to 14,440 tonnes of fresh and 5,000 tonnes of frozen beef next year and will continue to rise until the annual duty-free amount hits 35,000 tonnes and 15,000 tonnes respectively in 2022.

If exports to Europe hit those levels it would help grow the Canadian cow herd, said Sawyer.

Officials from the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association have met with International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne and Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay to push for a resolution of the trade barriers and put more CFIA vets in place for the certification process.

“I think the signal will be to producers, as we’re making progress on those technical trade barriers, or if we have them resolved, now we can take advantage of that very valuable market. I think you’ll see a huge lift at that time,” Sawyer said.

The EU along with China are two critical pieces in boosting beef exports, he said.

“If we can achieve a premium in them, that makes carcass utilization much bigger,” he said. “We’ll be able to utilize full carcasses between those two markets at a premium price and it makes them much more viable for the producers to add that extra input cost to get them there,” he said.

CCA officials will also be meeting EU officials in Brussels next month.

“I think it is vital from an industry perspective that we be there to outline what these trade barriers mean,” said Sawyer.

Because so many producers are confused by the EU certification process, the CCA has created a series of videos and posted them on its website.

Although late enrolment is possible, most beef heading to Europe will come from cattle enrolled at birth in a program that certifies they haven’t received any “growth-enhancing products.”

“Producers who enrol their operations in the program this fall will be calving EU-eligible cattle in winter/spring 2018,” the cattlemen’s association said. “Those cattle, raised without growth promotants, will take longer to raise and so would not be market ready until late 2019 or early 2020.

“This anticipated time frame coincides with the period in which CCA believes the conditions could be established to encourage the larger Canadian packers to enter the market.”

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, she has also published two collections of poetry and a biography about a Sikh civil rights activist. Her freelance work has appeared in numerous publications across Canada.

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