Empty handed but happy in Japan

While he had nothing new to announce at the end of his fourth trade mission to Japan, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz sounded jubilant in a news conference from Tokyo before he returned to Canada.

He and a delegation of commodity groups met key Japanese politicians and business leaders. “We now have a clearer understanding of the potential for increased trade,” Ritz said. “There’re no major obstacles to overcome and we should be able to move ahead with an economic partnership agreement with Japan.”

At $4.2 billion annually, Japan is the third-largest buyer of Canadian farm and food products, he noted. Grains and oilseeds, pork, and fish and seafood account for most of the exports, with canola, at nearly $1.5 billion, topping the list. Canada’s delegation to Japan included representatives from beef, pork and grain groups as well as the CWB.

In January, Japan announced it would begin accepting beef from animals under 30 months of age. Since the 2003 BSE outbreak, the country has only accepted beef from animals under 21 months of age and officials hope the expanded access will see a doubling of beef exports to as much as $150 million annually.

Negotiations of a trade partnership agreement will resume next month. Ritz said a deal would benefit farmers across the country.

“We have had a couple excellent days of meetings here in Tokyo with our key Japanese customers,” said Richard Phillips, executive director of the Grain Growers of Canada. “Our first meeting was with the Flour Millers Association of Japan, where we had a frank dialogue about the high quality of this year’s western Canadian wheat crop and proposed changes to the Canadian Grain Commission.”

The end of the single desk “has not caused issues for them,” he added.

“They have been pleased with the quality of both CWB and private-sector wheat deliveries,” Phillips said.

While in Japan, Ritz also visited the Canada Pavilion at FoodEx, the largest food and beverage trade show in Asia. The event is a crucial forum for Canadian businesses to foster trade and sales opportunities and to meet potential new customers.

This year, a diverse group of 23 exhibitors representing many of Canada’s agricultural sectors, from beef to beer to berries, were part of the Canada Pavilion. Canada has had a formal presence at this trade show for 31 years.

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