Canadian pork sector eager to form trade deal with Japan

Industry official worries the U.S. will steal the lucrative market

Canada exported $3.8 billion worth of pork last year, and with limited scope for domestic market growth, producers are putting emphasis on increasing that export amount.

Frank Novak, chair of Alberta Pork, said the Canadian pork industry has reduced its reliance on the U.S. market, but trade deals with other countries will be vital to future profitability.

Thirty-three percent of Canadian pork exports now go to the United States, compared to 55 percent in 2000. Of the remainder, 25 percent goes to China and 18 percent to Japan, said Novak.

The pork industry was counting on the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal to increase its exports to Asia, but alternatives are needed now that it has been scuttled by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration.

“The question is, what happens next?” Novak said during an Alberta Pork regional meeting in Leth-bridge March 9.

“Our big market that we really can’t lose is Japan.”

He said the industry can’t afford a repeat of the situation in South Korea, when the U.S. made a deal ahead of Canada and received preferential access to that lucrative market.

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“If (Americans) get one of those deals when they’ve got better tariffs than we have going into the Japanese market, we can have a meeting and decide who can close their doors because it would be really, really bad for our industry,” said Novak.

“So that’s something that we’ve been pushing the federal government very hard on, when we got the first whiff that there might be an issue with the TPP. We’ve been pushing the federal government saying, ‘you guys need to make sure that we have a deal with Japan bilaterally and make sure that we don’t get left behind with respect to the U.S.’ ”

Pacific Rim trade talks were the focus of a letter to the federal government from the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance, which it sent March 13. The Canadian Pork Council and 38 other agricultural commodity groups are signatories.

“Canada was poised to enter into a new era of freer trade before the U.S. pulled out of the TPP, particularly with Japan,” said the letter.

“It would have meant freer access for Canadian exporters to the world’s fourth-largest import market. Now, getting Japan’s attention may be a challenge — especially since the U.S. has declared its intent to negotiate a bilateral trade deal with them.

“A renewed effort to diversify our trade options will help protect Canada from rising walls and closing doors. Canada should not lag behind when other countries are obtaining preferential access for their products.”

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Representatives of TPP signatory countries, with the exception of the U.S., met in Chile March 15 to discuss the situation.

Trump’s intention to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement is another concern for the pork industry.

“We have no idea where it will end up,” said Novak.

“The one thing that we do know is that the livestock industry were big political supporters of the Republican Party and that they are very, very pro trade.”

He said he has heard from American pork producers that industry officials have met with the Trump administration and stated their position as, “ ‘we put you in, we can take you out, so don’t screw with agriculture,’ Novak said.

“We’re hoping that message was received and that nothing crazy happens with respect to the livestock industry and NAFTA, but we’ll have to watch that one very carefully.”

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As for the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement with Europe, benefits to Canadian pork will take awhile, he added, because the process of ratification is lengthy.