Federal action urged to reopen beef markets

Canada’s livestock producers, fed up with international trade barriers, want the federal government to do much more to open up foreign markets for their products.

A new industry report recommends 25 steps for Ottawa to take in gaining greater access for Canada’s agricultural exports, especially beef.

That includes creating a separate bureaucracy for negotiating international market access.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association headed up the report, which also involved the Canadian Pork Council and other red meat industry groups. The coalition presented its report to the federal Beef Value Chain Round Table on Nov. 5.

The report was born out of the industry’s frustration that, 5-1/2 years after BSE, most of Canada’s major beef markets are still restricted.

It notes that out of Canada’s top 10 beef customers in 2002 (the year before BSE hit), only two – the U. S. and Cuba – have fully lifted market restrictions. This despite the fact that World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) rules say full trade in beef should resume after specified risk materials (SRMs) are removed from carcasses at slaughter, which Canada now does.

“We’re just about at our wits’ end. How do we get market access to these countries that do not want to trade with us?” said Don Winnicky, a Manitoba Cattle Producers Association director from Piney and a member of the CCA’s foreign trade committee.

Canada loses $11 million in sales each day because foreign beef markets which closed immediately after BSE have not yet fully reopened, according to CCA.

John Masswohl, CCA’s international relations director, said Canada needs a fully co-ordinated strategy in negotiating more open markets with other nations.

Right now, Canada is negotiating to restore the beef access to Korea it lost after BSE. But that diverts resources which should be used to obtain greater access to other markets, said Masswohl.

“Right now they just don’t have the horses to do a full court press simultaneously on more than one continent,” he said.

“It’s not saying the things we have aren’t good things… but we don’t have all of the pieces in all of the right places all the time.

“We cannot get the markets open without having people over there negotiating them.”

What Canada needs, said Masswohl, is a “cabinet-level beef envoy” – someone with authority to close deals – who travels the world negotiating market access. [email protected]

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