Producers told be ready despite slow progress on EU trade agreement

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — When it comes to a free trade agreement with the European Union, the job isn’t finished until the paperwork is done.


The Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement between Canada and the EU was announced last October, but in reality nothing much will happen until 2017, followed by a five-year phase-in period, said Doug Forsyth, head of Agriculture Canada’s strategic trade policy division. 


The completed text is done and is now under legal review. It must be translated into 22 European Union languages and then reviewed by member nations and Canadian provinces and territories. 


“Our goal is to work as expeditiously as possible through the re-maining steps so Canada can access the vast benefits offered by this as soon as possible,” Forsyth said at the semiannual meeting of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association in Charlottetown, Aug. 13-16. 


In addition, sanitary and phytosanitary measures must be agreed upon to protect human, animal and plant health, said Jeff Adams of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.


The Canada-EU veterinary agreements are needed to establish a framework for co-operation on the full scope of animal and plant health and food safety provisions. 


The agreement holds great promise for Canadian beef producers as it will, over time, permit 35,000 tonnes of fresh chilled product without duties. Another 15,000 tonnes of frozen beef may be accepted, as well as 3,000 tonnes of bison. 


Canada must also abide with a ban on growth promoting hormones. 


Processing plants will also need to be ready. The Canadian Food In-spection Agency has regulations in place already to ship beef to Europe. The question remains how many might be interested.


“It’s slow to get plants who want to spend the money to get the certification,” agriculture minster Gerry Ritz told reporters at the meeting. 


Science-based agreements have been attached to the CETA documents and inspectors will visit Canadian plants. Reciprocal inspections are common practice among trading partners.


However, with the letters received, there should be fewer problems getting beef over to Europe. 


“We don’t want to see hurdles for non-tariff barriers behind a free trade agreement,” Ritz said.


Cattle producers interested in this market need to start thinking about getting their premises certified under CFIA rules and raising calves without growth promoting hormones.


“It might be a good idea prior to 2015 calves being born to get on with it,” said John Masswohl of the CCA. 


There’s already a duty free quota available and if plants are interested, the opportunity is there to test the waters.


“We can start to make better use of the existing quota and not necessarily wait forever,” he said. 


With Europe opening its doors and a recent agreement with China, a range of opportunities are available, even if the full deal hasn’t been released publicly, said Dennis Laycraft, executive vice-president of the CCA. 


Laycraft also suggested producers could consider raising cattle without ractopamine as opportunities open in China. Records should be kept so cattle can be eligible for these new markets. Information about health and the use of hormones or ractopamine could be announced when they are offered for sale. 


“In theory, we could make those cattle available through the auction market system,” he said. 


However, extra costs are involved in producing cattle for these markets. Operators need to know processors are willing to buy from feedlots so that everyone makes money.


“Let’s not get too invested until we see what is actually there,” he said. 


“The real message is Europe is going to open and China is opening to us.