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New partnership gives a boost to transpacific trade

Canada’s beef producers rely on international trade to keep their industry growing in a global economy. That’s why the National Cattle Feeders’ Association (NCFA) was thrilled when the Government of Canada announced it has reached a trade deal with ten of Asia-Pacific’s fastest growing economies.

The Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) will provide tariff-free and/or competitive access to key markets in the Asia-Pacific region. It is to be signed in March and must then be ratified by the Canadian Parliament and by the governments of the ten other member countries.

We spoke with Claire Citeau, executive director of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance (CAFTA), to learn why the agreement is so important for Canada’s agri-foods producers, including beef producers.

“Overall the CPTPP will reduce tariffs and non-tariff barriers, open new, growing markets for Canadian agri-food products, and support jobs and prosperity here at home,” said Claire. “It will provide the sector with unprecedented access to the important Japanese market and rapidly growing Asian markets like Vietnam and Malaysia.

“The 11 countries in the CPTPP region include some of our main export markets, including Japan and Mexico, as well as seven new countries,” continued Claire. “Japan in particular is the big prize as it is our third export market and a high value market for Canadian agriculture and agrifood  – it is the largest economy in the CPTPP region, and the third largest in the world. Vietnam and Malaysia are other countries that could represent expanding markets.”

Some of Canada’s main competitors, such as Australia, have free trade agreements with countries in this region, which has given them a huge advantage over Canada when it comes to exports. The CPTPP will help to level the playing field.

Since the U.S. dropped out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and does not have free trade agreements with Japan, CPTPP will give Canadian producers a distinct advantage over the U.S. in the Japanese market.

Why speedy ratification is crucial

John Weekes, senior business advisor at Bennett Jones, former ambassador to the WTO and Canada’s chief negotiator for NAFTA, said he attributes Japanese leadership to TPP coming back to life again as the CPTPP – because they saw it as an important way to fill the vacuum that was left in the Asia-Pacific area when the U.S. retreated from the original TPP negotiations early in 2017. The Japanese came to the conclusion that it would be important to have a trade agreement with the sort of provisions that are in the CPTPP, in that part of the world. If Canada had turned its back on CPTPP, we could have faced not having a trade agreement with the Japanese for at least a decade.

John Weekes speaking at a Canadian International Council event in Ottawa on February 12, 2018.

When addressing attendees at the Alberta Beef Industry Conference in Red Deer on February 23, 2018 John stated,

Canada should approve CPTPP in parliament as soon as possible so we get in on the ground floor on tariff reductions and secure lower tariffs as quickly as possible.

Claire Citeau explained that the CPTPP will enter into force 60 days after at least six members ratify it. “We may lose the ‘first mover advantage’ if Canada is not among the first countries to ratify,” she said. “If our competitors ratify and implement the CPTPP before Canada, they will benefit from the initial rounds of tariff cuts and we won’t, putting us at a further disadvantage.”

“Having better and more competitive access to markets like Japan will create further growth and help create jobs in urban and rural areas in Canada,” concluded Claire.

Stay tuned for future blog posts, in which we will keep you updated on the ratification process.

6 issues cattle feeders will discuss at the Alberta Beef Industry Conference

Beef producers from all over Alberta will convene in Red Deer next week for the Alberta Beef Industry Conference.

This annual event is a chance for industry members to find out what’s new and network with others in the industry. As the event approaches, here’s a look at some of the pressing issues ACFA has been following, and that industry members will likely discuss.

#1 The Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP)

The government has allocated $3 billion to invest, over the course of five years, in five areas: innovation and research; environmental sustainability; risk management; product and market development and diversification; and public trust. ACFA will look at devising projects and programs to advance the cattle feeding industry, which could attract funding under CAP.

#2 Labour

The Federal Department of Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) is currently reviewing the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. This program is a life-saver for cattle feeders when they are unable to find workers from within the Canadian workforce. Past government reviews have accepted ACFA recommendations but there is still room for improvement.  ACFA will continue to be engaged in this file.

#3 Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)

Last month the government announced it will sign onto the new CPTPP trade agreement. This is good news for the beef industry and should result in reduced tariffs in a number of export markets, especially Japan. ACFA will continue communicating with government to stress the importance of the agreement for Canada’s beef industry until it is fully approved and ratified by Parliament.

#4 Other trade issues

NAFTA and trade with China are two other pressing trade issues of great importance to cattle feeders. In June 2016, the U.S. secured approval from China for greater access to that market. Canadian producers need the same access. A new pilot program to export fresh and chilled Canadian beef to China is expected in 2018, but ACFA will continue to press for the same access given to the U.S.

#5 Competitiveness

About 10 years ago, ACFA commissioned a study to assess the competitiveness of cattle feeding in Alberta. The industry’s ability to compete effectively in the international market will continue to be a priority and there will be discussions about whether it is time to update this study.

#6 Industry governance and financing

The mandatory levy on beef sales, known as the check-off, is used to fund research and marketing activities on behalf of the entire industry. ACFA and the Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) have come together to devise a new governance and funding model for the provincial beef industry, and its use of check-off dollars. A plebiscite may be required later in 2018 for a final decision.

As well as conversation and networking, the conference also features a full program of speakers, including former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

For anyone interested in Alberta’s beef industry, its challenges and opportunities, this is a must-attend event.

2017: Cattle feeders’ year in review

This past year saw a number of challenges arise that gave cattle feeders cause for concern, such as changing legislation and regulations, taxation, and trade. At each step, the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association (ACFA) has played an active role in advocating and negotiating for our members.

Here are some of the major projects we worked on in 2017:

Strategic plan

In March, ACFA board members, staff and industry partners met to renew the organization’s vision, mission and strategic plan. Here is a summary of the outcome of those talks:

Vision: Champion a sustainable cattle feeding sector in Alberta.

Mission: Pursue innovative and collaborative solutions for a thriving Alberta beef industry

Strategic priority #1: Build ACFA membership by delivering value to our members.

Strategic priority #2: Engage with the provincial government to strengthen the health of the cattle feeding sector in Alberta.

Strategic priority #3: Collaborate with partners to advance the industry.

Strategic priority #4: Strengthen ACFA governance.

Advocacy

There were many issues affecting cattle feeders in 2017 in which ACFA played an active role in advocating for our members’ interests. These included:

    • The Lethbridge County head tax which would severely impact cattle feeders in that area, resulting in feedlot closures.
    • The provincial carbon levy which could add costs by as much as $6 to $7 per head.
    • Federal income tax changes that will harm the viability of family-owned corporations.
    • Infrastructure needs, which are not receiving adequate provincial or federal funding.
    • Labour shortages, ongoing issues with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), and proposed changes to the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program (AINP).
    • Farm safety, employment standards and the Employment Standards Code.
    • Trade, and access to new markets for cattle feeders.

Outreach

ACFA’s communications with stakeholders and the public included:

    • Key provincial government ministers, decision-makers, MLAs and MPs.
    • Members, industry and the media.
    • Feedlot tours for educators, students, and government officials.

Watch for status reports, as we continue to stay on top of these issues throughout the coming year.

The Top 5 blog posts of 2017

Thanks for reading our blog this year. We hope you’ve enjoyed the information we’ve shared about how Alberta’s cattle feeders operate, the innovations they’ve introduced and the challenges they face.

As we head into 2018, we’re looking back at the most popular blog posts from 2017. Here are the posts most read and shared by you, our readers:

New program customizes farm safety for feedlots. Cattle feeding is a unique industry, and the requirements of a feedlot safety program cannot be met by standardized programs. In this post, we explained a safety program that feedlot operators can customize to their own operation.

5 feedlot issues to watch for in 2017. Transportation, traceability, trade, safety and infrastructure were all flagged as important issues for Alberta’s cattle feeders, and which we covered in posts during the year.

Why Lethbridge County cattle feeders could be leaving via new roads. This was one of several posts discussing proposed legislative or tax changes that could impede the profitability of cattle feeders.

Meet the team: Ryan Kasko, vice-chair of the board. In 2017, we introduced Ryan as our vice-chair, and this year we look forward to having him serve as our new Chair. Martin Zuidhof will become the Past Chair. The Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association is fortunate to have such committed and knowledgeable individuals serving on its board.

Canadian beef in demand: feeding the European market and why it matters. The importance of international trade to Canada’s beef industry has been a theme throughout the year. In this post, we introduced one of the few Canadian feedlots that produces beef that meets the requirements of the European market.

We’re glad you enjoyed these posts, and we’re already hard at work planning a great series for 2018. Stay tuned – and in the meantime, Happy New Year!

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’.

Canadian beef in demand: feeding the European market and why it matters

Global trade is a mark of success for any business, and that holds true for the beef industry as well.

One market that has not reached its full potential is Europe, where Canadian beef is in high demand. To learn more about this market, and why more Canadian beef doesn’t head east across the Atlantic, we spoke with Jason Hagel of Hagel Feeders.

His feedlot is one of the few in Canada that feeds cattle bound for the European market. The business was started by Jason’s grandfather in the mid 1950s and now feeds about 5,000 head of cattle each year, in addition to a cow/calf operation comprising about 1,000 head. Hagel Feeders can be found just east of Linden, Alberta.

In 2005, Jason was approached by a group of ranchers who had started a brand called Prairie Heritage. They were looking for a feedlot for their beef, which was supplied to local restaurants and grocery stores. The brand was based on providing beef grown by certified beef producers, with an environmental farm plan in place, and without the use of growth promotants or antibiotics. Success in the domestic market was eventually followed by expansion into the European market. “Even though tariffs made the product expensive to the European consumer,” said Jason, “they were hungry for it. About one-third of our product was being shipped there.”

In 2014, the Prairie Heritage brand was sold to One Earth Farms, but Hagel Feedlots continues to feed the cattle.

The cost of European beef exports, and why they matter

The main requirement for export to Europe is that the beef must be produced without the use of growth promotants. “It costs about 18 to 22 per cent more to finish an animal without growth promotants,” explained Jason, “because they take longer to finish, and require more feed.”

The animals must also be segregated, and RFID technology is required to provide the data needed to guarantee that the animals have been raised and fed as stated.

“Nonetheless, it’s very important for Canada to stretch out her arms to countries other than the U.S.,” he continued. “We send the majority of our product down there and that reduces our bargaining power when it comes to price. We have two American packing plants in Alberta, which have no real interest in going to anywhere other than the U.S. because it’s easy and they can buy a premium product for a lower price.”

CETA and tariffs: beef industry implications

The Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), ratified in February 2017, is designed to encourage free trade between Canada and Europe. However, Canada already enjoys a tariff-free quota for beef exports. “Right now we don’t send much beef,” said Jason, “so we don’t even reach those quotas. It’s not because we don’t have the beef to send, but because there are not enough packing plants that are qualified to send beef to Europe.”

With the opening of Harmony Beef in Balzac, Alberta, later this month, that may well change. Stay tuned for an upcoming post in which we will feature this new business and discuss the implications for trade and for the Alberta economy.

Europe’s not the only market where our beef is in demand. Check out this earlier post to learn how people in 58 countries enjoy Canadian beef.