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Ottawa meetings bring cattle feeder issues to government’s attention

Each year, at its February board meeting, the National Cattle Feeders’ Association (NCFA) creates an Ottawa Engagement Strategy. This strategy provides a framework for four separate meetings in March, May, September, and November with federal decision makers, including MPs, ministers, parliamentary secretaries, staff, and house committees.

The strategy allows NCFA representatives to advocate for cattle feeders across Canada on major issues such as trade, regulations, labour, and infrastructure.

During the 2018 March and May meetings, the NCFA met with Patty Hajdu, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, and with Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, as well as more than 50 MPs and government officials.

The issues explained

The major opportunities and challenges that form the focus of this year’s meetings include the following:

Opportunities for growth

Barriers to growth

  • Consumer education and trust – To get the government engaged in consumer education, helping ensure, through the Canadian Food Policy, that consumer choice is “informed”, based on facts and science.
  • Labour shortages – To ensure that Canada’s agricultural producers and meat processors have access to the labour they need.
  • Rural infrastructure – To facilitate infrastructure development so that agriculture ties into broader provincial, regional, and national networks.
  • Regulatory barriers – To continue updating regulations so they reflect the day-to-day realities of beef production and keep pace with technological changes and ongoing innovations.

Progress made during the consultations

In early May, Rodger Cuzner, parliamentary secretary for labour, chaired a day-long roundtable on labour needs in agriculture and agri-food. It was announced that the government will no longer require separate Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIAs) for worker transfers or replacement workers. This removes one of the many Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) complexities.

Bureaucrats administering the TFWP are currently holding consultations with agriculture across Canada, with meetings in Ottawa, Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg and other cities. Key issues with the program will be raised during the meetings.

As more meetings are held later this year, we will continue to provide updates.

Meet the international trade expert who is helping support the Canadian beef industry abroad

John Weekes, an independent business advisor who has worked with the National Cattle Feeders’ Association (NCFA) on trade issues, is the subject of this week’s Meet the Team series profile.

John is an expert in international trade policy and a senior business advisor at Bennett Jones in Ottawa. He has been a huge asset to NCFA in developing a strategic approach to negotiating with government and stakeholders.

Supporting Canadian cattle feeders in Ottawa

During his career, John has been chief negotiator for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Canada’s ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO), chair of the WTO General Council, and ambassador to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) during the Uruguay Round of GATT negotiations. His insider’s perspective on governments’ approach to trade matters has been invaluable to NCFA.

Trade files he has worked on include:

Country-of-Origin Labelling (COOL)

In 2002, the U.S. introduced a regulation requiring all beef (and some other agriculture products) to have a label stating where it was from. To be labeled as U.S.-sourced, the animal had to be born, raised and processed in that country. Processing plants in the U.S. were required to keep Canadian born and raised animals separate from those born and raised in the U.S., a requirement that was costly to adhere to. As a result, Canadian exports to the U.S. suffered, and some U.S. plants were forced to close. Many jobs were lost on both sides of the border, and COOL cost the Canadian beef industry billions of dollars. 

Canada appealed to the WTO in 2008 and, in December 2015, won. The U.S. Congress repealed COOL to avoid $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs authorized in the WTO ruling. 

As Canada’s former ambassador to the WTO, John was uniquely positioned to provide advice through the complex web of WTO tribunals and the excruciatingly long appeals process. John worked with NCFA and others on this, including advising federal government officials. His contacts within the U.S. were also helpful in getting NCFA’s messages through in Washington, and he helped us communicate with Canadian importers who might have been harmed if Canada retaliated against U.S. imports into Canada.

Canada-E.U. Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)

This free trade deal between Canada and the EU came into effect on September 21, 2017. It will allow Canada to ship 65,000 metric tonnes of beef into the EU, without duty or tariffs. This could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Canada’s beef industry. John did a great job monitoring developments, needs and the political climate within the EU, and is continuing to contribute while the details are being finalized.   

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) 

Canada was not part of the group that began this trade negotiation, but NCFA urged the Canadian government to become part of the TPP process, which it did. John offered advice on what Canada should secure in this negotiation. Now that the U.S. has chosen not to ratify the deal, John will lend his expertise to a new round of negotiations with other TPP partners, if talks go ahead.

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) 

As Canada’s former Chief Negotiator for NAFTA, John has an unrivaled understanding of the ins and outs of the agreement, and his opinions are sought by industry and government during the current and ongoing negotiations with NAFTA.

Why international trade matters

Canadian beef is renowned worldwide for its great taste and high quality. A healthy export industry contributes to a healthy Canadian economy. Expertise such as John’s is vital to NCFA in securing the conditions our beef producers need to develop profitable relationships with customers across the globe.

You can read more about international trade issues in ‘Canadian beef trade with China takes a serious blow’, ‘Cattle feeders head to Ottawa to support NAFTA negotiations’, ‘Feeding the world: why the agri-food industry must be an economic priority’ and ‘How people in 58 countries enjoy Canadian beef’.

Cattle feeders head to Ottawa to support NAFTA negotiations

Canada’s beef producers are anxious to preserve the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) because it is a great example of how free trade should work. U.S. President Donald Trump, however, has threatened to pull his country out of the pact.

What NAFTA has meant to the Canadian beef industry

NAFTA’s tri-lateral market access — without tariffs or quotas for either beef or live cattle — has resulted in healthy trade between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

According to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, in 2016, Canada exported 270,000 tonnes of beef and 764,000 head of live cattle to the U.S., valued at more than $3 billion ($1.7 billion was beef and $1.4 billion live cattle). A further 16,000 tonnes of Canadian beef valued at $109 million went to Mexico, making that country Canada’s fourth largest beef export market.

In fact, almost 72 per cent of Canada’s beef exports go to the U.S., and six per cent to Mexico. Almost 59 per cent of our beef imports come from the U.S.

Beef industry submission to federal governments supports NAFTA

In May 2017, the National Cattle Feeders Association (NCFA) joined with other Canadian beef industry groups in a submission to the governments of Canada, U.S. and Mexico, stressing that NAFTA works well for beef and the relevant provisions should not be changed. The arrangement has produced an integrated North American beef industry that benefits the three countries, and has allowed Canada to build an industry that is also more competitive internationally.   

While the NAFTA talks could lead to a fine-tuning of some details – such as the elimination or reform of certain border regulations and export impediments, and the aligning and harmonizing of veterinary drug approvals – we believe it’s important for Canada’s beef producers, and the Canadian economy, to preserve this agreement.

How Canada’s beef industry is represented at the negotiation table

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has a trade division that provides advice to the chief NAFTA negotiator. The trade team has received input and advice from industry representatives, and has held briefings for industry stakeholders prior to each round of the NAFTA talks. NCFA is planning to be at the upcoming briefings for the second round that will be held in Ottawa on September 23-27. 

How Canada’s beef industry could be negatively impacted by changes to NAFTA

Any changes that would restrict the free flow of live cattle and boxed beef across the borders to the U.S. and Mexico could have a profound effect on Canada’s beef producers. Another concern is any reimplementation of Country of Origin Labelling (COOL), which has been historically damaging to the beef industry.

You can read the full submission to the governments of Canada, U.S. and Mexico  here.

Former Edmonton Sun columnist Danny Hooper on the evolution of the beef industry

When you think about the beef that’s served on your table, it might seem that the product hasn’t changed much during your lifetime. What has changed, though, is the business of beef production.

With the annual Alberta Beef Industry Conference approaching, from February 15-17, we thought it would be interesting to talk with long-time event master of ceremonies, Danny Hooper, to see what changes he has observed over the years.

As well as being conference MC for over a decade, Danny is a former page 6 columnist for the Edmonton Sun, a recording artist, motivational speaker, fundraising auctioneer and one-time host of the 790 CFCW morning show. He also comes from a farming background, having grown up on a cattle ranch in Tomahawk, Alberta.

Changing times have brought changing issues

We asked Danny what issues have come to the forefront during his time with the conference. “When I did my first year, it was right in the middle of the BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) crisis,” he said. Since then, I’ve seen a succession of different issues. Tech is a big one – it’s interesting to see how technology changes the industry every year. Country of Origin Labelling has been another big topic. Other issues I’ve seen include the economy; the way that changing demographics, as well as social and cultural norms, affect beef producers; politics; regulation and more.”

Food safety in Canada

Danny also said that food safety has been a constant theme at the conference, and he’s always been impressed at the high standards followed by the industry. “I recently returned from a three-week trip to Bali,” he said, “and that was a real eye opener. You can’t drink the tap water, even in a nice hotel, and you’re always wondering about the safety of the food you’re served. In Canada, you don’t have to give food safety much of a thought.”

The adaptability of Canadian beef producers

As consumer demands change, Danny noted, the industry has been able to adapt and respond. “There’s so much information out there, both good and bad – and a lot of misinformation – and it travels at the speed of light. It can affect consumer choices very quickly, and at the other end of the scale, the producers,” he said. “Food producers have to respond, and often have to respond quite quickly, and I think overall they’ve done a very good job of it.”

Danny concluded our conversation with a couple of observations about the industry:

“To me, it’s always an eye opener what big business this is,” he commented, “and all the issues that the producers do face. I don’t think people are aware of that.”

“Another thing I’ve found interesting through the years is the custom branding. A lot of the small independent producers are doing a really good job of branding and marketing their farms and their products.”

To learn more about the consumer trends that affect the beef industry, check out last week’s blog post: ‘Changing demographics mean changes at the dinner table.’ And stay tuned for more from conference speakers in the upcoming weeks.

5 feedlot issues to watch for in 2017

For our first post of 2017, we’re taking a look at some of the issues likely to affect feedlot operators in upcoming months. Here are five topics worth watching:

1. Transportation

The Canada Gazette recently published new regulations on transport times and conditions for cattle on livestock trucks. Cattle feeders provided input into the process, and will be submitting a response in February.

2. Traceability

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency plans to announce new traceability regulations in 2017. This important piece of legislation has been 10 years in the making due to the complexity of tracing and tracking cattle movement, but regulation is a crucial piece in the protection of public and animal health, and ensuring food safety.

3. Trade

With the U.S. election now over and Trump in the White House all eyes are on the trade implications. Cattle and beef are currently traded in both directions between Canada and the U.S. and any changes to Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) or NAFTA will have huge implications for our industry and Canadians.

4. Safety

The Alberta Farm and Ranch Workplace Act, or Bill 6, was a hot topic during 2016, with many farmers and ranchers concerned about the implications for their businesses. As the government’s roundtable consultation sessions wind up, we will all be interested to learn the outcomes, and their implications for farm safety.

5. Infrastructure

Finding the necessary funding to rehabilitate rural roads and replace bridges also emerged as a hot topic in 2016. Cattle feeders have made representations to both the federal and provincial governments on their responsibility to ensure agriculture can move products to market. While the federal government recently announced $2 billion over the next 11 years for rural infrastructure projects, much more is needed. Pressure on this policy priority must continue up to the spring budgets and beyond. 

Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts, as we explain more about these issues, and explore how they affect cattle feeders, the beef industry and even Canadians.

The evolution of the cattle feeding industry: 7 decades in our history

As we’ve seen in previous posts, such as ‘Feedlots 101: everything you need to know about cattle feeding in Alberta’, this province is the hub of Canada’s beef industry.

Although ranching in Alberta started as early as the 1860s, cattle feeding didn’t develop as a distinct sector until much later than that. Here’s a very condensed history, showing how cattle feeding has evolved over the years: Read more

Cattle feeding in 2015: a year in review

This was another busy year for the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association, as we continued to support our industry through five strategic priorities.  With new governments both provincially and federally, we’ve been kept very busy. Here are some of 2015’s highlights:

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The making of a cattle feeders’ association – major milestones in our history

 

Alberta cattle feeders

Photo courtesy of Glenbow Museum circa 1910

Alberta has a long history of producing the finest beef, and our feedlot operators are proud of the role they play in producing world-class quality. 

Alberta cattle feedlots

Photo credit Glenbow Museum “Start to Finish” circa 1953

In a previous post we explained who the ACFA is, and what we do. This week we’re going to share a short history of the Alberta feedlot industry and the birth of its association:

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