Canadian canola is moving to Europe for the first time since 1996-97.
Canadian Grain Commission statistics show 95,000 tonnes of the oilseed were exported to Portugal through the first five months of the 2009-10 shipping season.
They are the first sales to the European Union since it banned imports from Canada shortly after growers started planting genetically modified canola.
That ban was lifted in March 2009 when the European Commission approved the final GM canola trait, removing the remaining obstacle standing in the way of resumption of trade.
A Canadian exporter knows of one or two vessels shipped out of Thunder Bay before the close of navigation Dec. 15.
There were also trade rumours of a Panamax vessel shipped from the West Coast. Those rumours appear to be true as the CGC is reporting 59,900 tonnes shipped to Portugal via the Pacific seaboard.
The exporter said the business to Europe was booked shortly after China announced a new blackleg disease policy that has severely limited sales to that destination.
“When we lost China, perhaps the basis allowed us to compete into Europe for that small window when that little bit of business was getting done. But I don’t think it’s there anymore,” he said.
European buyers are still shopping but few sales have been booked lately. That is partially because Canada faces stiff competition from Ukrainian rapeseed.
It remains to be seen whether Europe will evolve into a steady customer that can take up some of the slack if China remains closed.
“I think we’re all asking that question. I don’t think anybody knows the answer right now,” said the exporter.
“I’m with the camp that says, ‘Let’s hope so.’ We need another destination.”
Any Canadian canola moving into Europe is going into biodiesel markets in the south. There are no sales into the northern ports where Canadian product was shipped prior to the GM canola ban.
Rick White, general manager of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, would like to see Canadian seed and oil being used in the European dairy market where they incorporate vegetable oil into products like butter.
But the exporter said there is no appetite for using canola in food markets at the moment.
“I don’t think anybody is going to take that leap of faith right now,” he said.
The Canola Council of Canada has set an industry goal of shipping one million tonnes of seed to Europe by 2015.
“I have every reason to believe that we can reach that target,” said the exporter.
But he said that will happen only if the industry can overcome one last hurdle – public acceptance of GM crops.