In times like these, friendship is more valuable than ever.
“The mission was a direct result of the China (canola) ban,” said Alberta Canola director Andre Harpe, “When you lose part of your market, you have to make sure your other markets are OK.”
Harpe was one of two Alberta producers who recently travelled to Tokyo and Seoul on a trade mission led by International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr to promote Canadian crops.
“We went to touch base with our long-standing customers in Japan, just to let them know that we value the support and the trade that they do with us in canola,” said Harpe, who farms canola, malt barley and peas at Valhalla Centre.
“Our second part of the trip was going to South Korea to chat with them and let them know that we value the business they do with us and ask what we could do to expand on it a bit more.”
Seeing the countries and hearing about their challenges first hand was eye opening for Harpe, who was on his first trade mission. (There were more than 30 engagements in just six days.)
“We went from a country of 36 million to landing in a city of 36 million,” he said. “Tokyo was 36 million and Seoul was 28 million. That’s just a little part of their country.”
Trade missions need all kinds of different people, and it’s good to have producers along, he said. Other Alberta participants were Tanya Fir, the provincial minister of economic development, tourism and trade, Deputy Ag Minister Andre Corbould, and Allison Ammeter, a producer from Sylvan Lake who is chair of Pulse Canada.
“Part of the mission was to focus on maintaining our good markets and make sure that they know we appreciate them,” said Ammeter. “That’s an important part of the trade mission — maintaining the relationships that you have.”
Ammeter enjoyed seeing how different companies conducted their business with the trade ministers and representatives in both countries.
“Some of the discussions we had, they were very open and honest about what the challenges were and what needed to be fixed and what could be done better. That’s got to have value,” she said.
“What we learned in Japan was that they valued trade with us and also the trust they have with us, and the product we have,” added Harpe.
But the Japanese want ongoing engagement to maintain that bond.
“Japan already imports quite a lot from Canada. It brings in wheat, canola and beans,” said Ammeter. “They are very loyal buyers. If they purchase something from you and you treat them well, they will keep purchasing from you.”
The Canadians met with Japanese government officials as well as with the owner of Belex supermarket chain, which sells Alberta canola and uses it in cooking demonstrations.
The time in South Korea was spent on developing relationships, since the South Koreans do not do as much importing from Canada as Japan.
“South Korea is very ambitious in what it is doing, processing and producing,” said Ammeter. “I imagine there will be a lot of good that will come out of that meeting.
“They had a lot of interest in high-oleic-acid canola,” said Harpe.
The South Koreans expressed interest in buying more of this type of specialty oil, if Canadian growers were willing to grow it. They were also interested in using canola oil for biofuel to heat their homes that currently use palm oil.
“We did have discussions about how canola could be used as a biofuel stock during the winter,” said Harpe. “Palm oil doesn’t have the cold tolerance that canola oil does for biofuel.”
The mission also reinforced the importance of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has strengthened the relationship between Canada and nine other trading nations, including Japan.
“Japan is in a rather unique position, as is Canada, to take advantage of purchases back and forth,” Ammeter said. “I didn’t realize how much Japan was a gateway to (other) countries until I saw the kind of companies it has.
“They have really large food processors and they are recognized as being safe. They know the tastes of people in eastern countries better than we do.”
Both countries have very advanced economies and technology, Ammeter noted.
Alberta has trade offices in both Tokyo and Seoul, which help strengthen trade relations, and business between the countries. The Alberta delegates also spoke about encouraging Japanese and South Korean investment in Alberta.
“I think in six months or a year, we’ll say that this was a valuable trade mission. But you can’t really measure it at the time,” she said.
“The real interest will be if we increased our exports to Japan and South Korea a year from now, and can we trace it back to the mission. To me, that’s not only the goal, but that’s the proof.”
Given the protectionist measures used by China (canola and meat), India (pulses) and Italy (durum), diversifying markets is critical, she said.
“I really believe there is value in the kind of trade mission where we open up trade in a place that we might not have been paying attention to,” she said.