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Federal dept. to focus on livestock market access

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has created a new market access secretariat, with which it expects to better co-ordinate the expansion of ag exports, particularly for Canada’s beleaguered cattle sector.

The move was one of two pledges Friday from federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, along with a promise to pursue “commercially significant” access to international export markets for Canadian beef.

The secretariat (typically an agency set up as a permanent, administrative department of government) is meant to “better co-ordinate government initiatives with producers and industry to aggressively and strategically go after new markets and keep pace with international competitors,” the government said in a release Friday.

The secretariat is expected to include a range of trade experts to promote Canadian ag and agri-food exports worldwide.

Ag industry groups and experts have long urged Ottawa to devote added energy to diversifying export markets beyond the United States, particularly through bilateral trade agreements.

“Access to a variety of markets around the world is critical to moving all cuts of our animals and is the only means of maximizing the total value for the industry,” said Joe Bouchard, president of the Manitoba Cattle Producers Association (MCPA), in a separate release Friday.

AAFC said Friday that the new secretariat is meant to work toward broader access for agricultural and agri-food products in “promising” markets such as Mexico, Russia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea and Saudi Arabia.

Brad Wildeman, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), said in a separate release Friday that the work of a market access secretariat could “significantly” improve the bottom line for Canadian producers, resulting in as much as $100 per head increase in values for Canadian cattle.

“With the co-ordinating efforts of the secretariat’s trade experts, industry and government trade initiatives will work cohesively to promote agricultural exports worldwide and work to effectively eliminate any technical barriers to Canadian exports,” said Wildeman, the president of Pound-Maker Agventures, a beef feedlot and fuel ethanol firm at Lanigan, Sask.

The potential return on Ottawa’s investment in such a secretariat is “enormous,” MCPA said Friday, citing the need for a separate entity with the “appropriate credentials” to expand markets for livestock producers.

“We need the secretariat to get down to business right away to increase our opportunities for marketing our high quality product worldwide,” said Bouchard, a cattle producer at Fisher Branch, Man.

Staged process

The pledge to pursue “commercially significant” beef market access is considered to be the first step in a staged process leading to full worldwide market access, a process recommended by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), AAFC said.

“We agree with producers that Canada needs to get a foot in the door in many international markets while we remain committed to our goal to securing full OIE access for Canadian beef products around the world,” Ritz said in AAFC’s release.

“Closed markets have cost Canadians billions of dollars since 2003, plus thousands of jobs in the meat industry,” CCA foreign trade chair Travis Toews in the CCA’s release. “These first steps will begin to open doors.”

Only two of Canada’s top 10 markets, prior to the detection of Canada’s first home-grown case of BSE in 2003, have since fully lifted market restrictions, the CCA said.

This despite OIE guidelines that state full trade in all beef products should resume, provided that specified risk materials (SRMs, the tissues in cattle known to harbour the proteins that cause BSE) are removed, the CCA said.

AAFC said its two pledges are on the advice of the Beef-Cattle and Pork Value Chain Roundtables. “The roundtables have provided excellent advice which will form the foundation of our continued work to open new markets and to level the playing field for our exports,” Ritz said.

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