This summer, French politicians spent many hours defending the Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union.
The French National Assembly ratified the trade deal in late July and politicians, at least those in the governing party, spoke in favour of the deal and the economic value to France.
But some of their comments shed light on how Europeans view Canadian farming and food production.
Many think European farming is progressive and safe. In contrast, Canada’s agriculture system is backwards and risky.
“The goal of CETA is to impose on Canada sanitary and environmental norms that are similar to ours,” Monique Iborra, a member of National Assembly from a region near Toulouse, told the France Blue radio station in August.
That sort of language characterizes the challenges facing Canadian exporters of beef, pork, grains, oilseeds and other agri-foods.
Since CETA was implemented in September 2017, Canadian agri-food exports to Europe have stagnated. Meanwhile, Europe is selling more beef, pork and other foods to Canada.
“Technical and non-tariff barriers are effectively shutting out a significant portion of Canadian agri-food exports from the huge EU market,” the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance said in a Sept. 26 news release.
“Since the entry into force of the agreement, EU exports to Canada have increased by over 10 percent while Canadian agri-food exports have decreased by the same amount, increasing the trade deficit to $3.5 billion in favour of EU exporters.”
Agriculture Canada import/export data, released earlier this year, shows Europe continues to block food imports from Canada:
• Canadian pork sales to Europe have been stuck at $4 million a year since 2015. Meanwhile, European pork sales to Canada went from $99 million in 2015 to $157 million for the first 11 months of 2018.
• EU beef exports to Canada were $12,000 in 2015 and almost $19 million for the first 11 months of 2018. However, France bought only $167,000 worth of Canadian beef last year, down from $2.1 million in 2015.
CAFTA members, which includes commodity groups representing beef, pork, grains, pulses, canola and the processed food industry, say they are sick of Europe’s technical barriers on Canadian food products and continued attempts to impose its agri-food regulations on Canada.
As an example, the EU insists that Canada not use certain vet drugs in livestock if the meat is exported to the EU, the Canadian Meat Council said in a letter to the CETA Regulatory Co-operation Forum.
However, the EU is allowed to export veal to Canada, even if European producers use several medications prohibited for veal production in Canada.
“Mechanisms within CETA were supposed to prevent non-tariff barriers from stifling trade and ensure that parties abide by their commitment,” said CAFTA president Dan Darling.
“Instead, with non-tariff barriers still in place, viable commercial access (to Europe) remains elusive.”
In late September, Darling and other CAFTA directors shared their frustrations with Canadian and European officials while EU representatives were in Ottawa for meetings of the CETA agricultural committee.
“Our main message was it’s been two years and our exports (to Europe) have dropped,” said Claire Citeau, CAFTA executive director.
“We are really far from what CETA had promised.”
Despite what some think, CETA is not about Europe dictating its processes and regulations to Canadian farmers, Citeau added.
“We’re not going to adopt the EU rules,” she said.
“Our system is different from theirs, but the outcomes are the same. We wouldn’t be the fifth (largest) exporter of food products (in) the world if we didn’t have high quality and safe products…. What we conveyed to (European) officials is that we have high standards and biosecurity systems in place.”
CAFTA can share that information with EU politicians and bureaucrats, but getting the message to European citizens and farmers is more challenging.
Public comments following France’s ratification of CETA indicate that many believe Canadian farmers operate in a Wild West, with no rules and regulations around food production.
“The demands on us are high … draconian demands. Meanwhile, the Canadians can use products and their farming methods that are banned in France,” farmer Jacques Fortin told RT.com, a Russian news agency.
Canadian agri-food exporters are weary of such perceptions and European barriers to trade. At the same time, they’re optimistic that the technical issues can be resolved and Canada can take advantage of the European opportunity.
“The frustration is palpable, but there is very much hope,” Citeau said.
“We have an advantage, now, because we have CETA … but it needs to work.”