“We need a leader to get everyone on one plane.”
The annual meeting of the Canada Beef Export Federation held here last month saw expressions of exasperation and frustration with regulatory agencies and ongoing restricted access to offshore export markets. But the meeting also saw appreciation of federal government efforts to reopen beef markets and to establish an export-oriented marketing agency.
The well-attended meeting heard reports that beef exports were slowly increasing in some key markets such as Taiwan and Hong Kong. However, it was noted that in the key Japanese market, beef exports were severely restricted by the under-21-month rule. The south Korea market also remains closed to Canadian beef and a WTO challenge has been launched. These restrictions have seen Canadian beef exports rise only to pre-BSE levels of 2002. CBEF president Ted Haney said that it would be 2015 before beef exports are again on track and significantly increasing.
CBEF chair Gib Drury noted the efforts of federal Minister of Agriculture Gerry Ritz in reopening export markets to Canadian beef by means of high-level trade missions. To recognize those efforts the minister was awarded the first “Jim Graham Memorial Award” for beef marketing.
But all was not well with other government agencies. CBEF technical committee chair Scott Wooding expressed frustration with what he described as “An obstructive, bureaucratic organization, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in charge of negotiating foreign trade agreements.
“Our own people continue to slow us down,” he added.
Wooding also criticized the internal political problems of the Canadian cattle industry.
“We are a house divided. There is little chance that the Canadian government will improve the effectiveness of the CFIA until the beef industry can clearly communicate its priorities and problems. Unfortunately few countries experience the internal dissension that abounds in the Canadian beef industry,” Wooding said. “We need a leader to get everyone on one plane.”
Wooding also said that poor marketing efforts have seen Canada outmarketed by the U.S. and even small exporters like Uruguay. He suggested that Canada look at the international marketing efforts of Meat and Livestock Australia. He said that he hoped the establishment of the Agriculture Market Access Secretariat would improve marketing and negotiating efforts of Canadian beef in export markets.
Fred Gorrell, director general of the new Agriculture Market Access Secretariat (AMAS), spoke on the progress that has been made since it received its mandate last January.
“AMAS will represent all sectors of agriculture, but we recognize that beef exports and reopening markets will be our priority,” he said.
Gorrell said strategies will be developed for each country using incremental resources, but access must be viable for Canadian agricultural exports. “This will be a consultative process with provinces and the industry. There will also be more communication on our negotiating position,” he said.
Gorell said co-ordinating government approaches and managing missions will also be part of the AMAS mandate.
CBEF delegates and management expressed some concern over the seconding of CFIA veterinarians to AMAS as both technical experts and possible negotiators. There were questions about the ability of vets to act as negotiators as that may have been the problem in the past with the lack of CFIA success in reopening restricted offshore markets.
Gorrell said that he was cognizant of the concern and would make every effort to see that negotiators are trained and have adequate support in non-technical negotiating. “The process in establishing AMAS and how and where we will be negotiating will be an evolving process and will get better,” he said.
Dr. Kee Jim, a board member of the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA), provided the meeting with information on the role of ALMA and how it relates to CBEF activities. He outlined the funds that are being made available to industry including $6 million to international marketing efforts.
Jim said ALMA was not competing with either CBEF or AMAS, but wanted to act in a complementary and supportive role. He acknowledged that there have been problems in the past with industry/government politics in the establishment of ALMA.
“I do not want to relive the past, we need to go forward in supporting the development of the industry,” he said.
Debra Bryanton, executive director of the CFIA International Policy Directorate, told the meeting that the CFIA fully supported the establishment of AMAS and would be providing technical personnel to the new secretariat.