Ag exporters hail Canada/EU trade talks

A comprehensive trade deal between Canada and the European Union will be “by far the biggest trade agreement that we will ever work on negotiating.”

That’s the assessment of Brad Wildeman, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, one of several groups hailing Wednesday’s announcement of talks toward an “economic partnership agreement” between Canada and the 27-member EU.

The federal government said in a statement Wednesday that a bilateral agreement with the EU “could deliver commercial benefits across many sectors of the Canadian economy, including aerospace, chemicals, wood products, automotive vehicles and parts, agricultural products, and transportation and other business services.”

Such a partnership “has the potential to bring a $12 billion boost to the Canadian economy and lead to significant gains for both Canada and the EU,” the government said.

“The EU offers the potential for the largest market for Canadian beef,” said Wildeman, who’s also president of cattle feeding and ethanol brewing firm Pound-Maker Agventures at Lanigan, Sask.

The EU, he said, has been “about a half-million tonnes deficient in beef over the past couple of years, particularly with the expansion of the EU bloc.”

Canada “has a real opportunity to capture this large, high-volume market, with its big population of income earners that share a similar standard of living to Canadians,” he said in a CCA release Thursday.

And that “high-volume” market consumes over eight million tonnes of beef per year, CCA vice-president Travis Toews noted in the same release.

“Currently Canada has virtually zero commercially-viable access to the EU, so it’s difficult to quantify the tonnage that could end up in the EU with preferential access,” said Toews, a rancher at Beaverlodge, Alta.

“But the EU group of countries, with its high-income earners component, is a great fit for our high-quality grain-fed beef.”

The CCA has estimated that for Canada’s beef cattle producers, the potential market opportunities with the EU could rival Canada’s export market into the U.S.

That said, Wildeman cautioned ranchers that the process is just beginning and could take a year or more to negotiate at least 20 different areas.

“These present many perils and opportunities for failure, so the industry won’t get too excited that the agreement will happen very quickly.”

Darcy Davis, president of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance, a body of ag exporters’ groups and companies, described the planned talks as “historic negotiations” with potential to open the door to “significant new opportunities” for Canada’s export-reliant ag sector.

“With a population of 500 million, the EU could become an important market for Canadian agricultural products,” said Davis, a cow-calf producer from Acme, Alta. and former chair of Alberta Beef Producers.

“The stage has been set for discussions on both tariffs and non-tariff impediments to trade,” he said in a CAFTA release Thursday. “In today’s environment, we are pleased to see that Canada and the EU recognize that expanded trade can be a powerful stimulus of economic activity.”

Bilateral trade negotiations are welcome, CAFTA said in its release, but it also stresses that multilateral talks provide the “greatest opportunity for achieving more open trade in agriculture and agri-food.”

For that reason, CAFTA said it also continues to encourage the Canadian government to seek progress in ag negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

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