Ag players find Kazakhstan, Russia open for business

Industry representatives from Alberta and throughout Canada have told the federal and provincial agriculture ministers they’ve been having a successful mission in Kazakhstan.

“The industry people who I’ve been travelling with have told me just about every day they’ve been here they’ve had very productive meetings,” Alberta Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson, said Thursday on a press conference call from Kazakhstan.

Olson accompanied federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz on a trade mission that took the federal minister to Russia as well. According to a press release from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Kazakhstan is the biggest importer of Canadian purebred cattle.

Given Alberta’s position as the largest beef producer in Canada, there are many potential opportunities in both the cattle sector and other agricultural products, including equipment, Olson said. “There’s huge potential.”

There are many similarities, he added, in the landscape of areas of Kazakhstan and parts of Alberta.

“When you drive out in the country here, it feels very much like maybe the Brooks country or maybe Hanna country, except there are no fences, it just goes for miles… so there is a great opportunity for us to sell cattle and farm equipment here,” he said.

Both Olson and Ritz mentioned that the Canadian Hereford Association and a large ranch in Kazakhstan are collaborating on education.

‘They’re working together on the creation of an agriculture school,” Olson said, noting the association donated $5,000 toward the project and that there’s some Lakeland College involvement.

“Happy to show them”

Ritz said he addressed trade concerns in both Kazakhstan and Russia as well. In Russia, he raised that country’s ractopamine ban, which last month saw “temporary restrictions” imposed that halted meat imports from all but 19 federally inspected plants across Canada.

Marketed in Canada by Elanco as Paylean and Optaflexx, both growth stimulants to make beef and pork leaner, ractopamine is now banned in certain countries citing concerns that residues could remain in the meat and cause health problems, despite scientific evidence indicating it’s safe.

Russia is sending a team of veterinarians to Canada and some other countries soon, Ritz said, to take a look at the systems around ractopamine use.

“We’re happy to show them the extent of what we can and cannot do when it comes to ractopamine,” he said.

They also spoke about the Customs Union partnership that’s eliminating internal customs borders between some countries, including Russia and Kazakhstan.

While Canada is in favour of free trade, Ritz wanted to make sure any new rules don’t create blocks for Canadian imports. He tackled the issue of new animal health protocols in Kazakhstan as well.

On this trade mission, according to a federal release, the livestock industry has signed commercial contracts valued up to $11 million.

Those contracts include an $8 million contract for Genesus of Oakville, Man. to export 6,500 breeding swine to Russia and a nearly $3 million contract for Xports International of Clearwater, Man. to export Canadian purebred cattle to Kazakhstan.

— Victoria Paterson is a reporter for Alberta Farmer Express in Calgary. Follow her @vspaterson on Twitter.

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