Canadian export officials miffed over CETA import regulations

The Canadian Meat Council is studying import rules that it says will hinder beef and pork trade with the European Union.  |  File photo

Canada’s free trade accord with the European Union has failed to remove many of the barriers to shipping red meat to Europe.

“We do not have what we would call commercially viable access to the European market,” said Ron Davidson, head of international trade for the Canadian Meat Council. “There were a lot of barriers and we have been picking away at them,” said Davidson in an interview.

Under the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), Canada is allowed duty-free exports of 81,011 tonnes of pork, but three obstacles stand in the way.

The EU wants trichinella-free product and Canada is not officially recognized as free of the worms, which can be transferred from pork to people in raw or undercooked meat.

It is hoped a trichinella-free standard could be developed according to guidelines set out by the World Organization for Animal Health.

However, that would be expensive and there is no certainty the EU would accept it. The quota with the EU includes fresh and frozen meat.

The EU also requires its own health mark on boxes of meat over a tamper proof belt at the time of manufacture in the processing plant.

The boxes go into a cooler and the serial numbers on the health mark must be in sequence. That would create a lot of additional handling logistics for Canadian companies who ship to many other markets outside of Europe.

Canadian meat processors also express problems with equivalency inspection requirements with the EU.

“We supposedly do have equivalence in the meat inspection systems. If it is a real equivalence, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency stamp should be sufficient,” Davidson said.

On the beef side, Canada was granted duty-free exports of 64,950 tonnes of beef and veal.

The stumbling block is the use of antimicrobial treatments to remove pathogens like E. coli. Because Europe would not be buying entire carcasses, Canada would be left with items like trim used for grinding meat.

Those are exported to the United States, where there is a zero tolerance policy for E. coli.

That means the entire carcass is treated with antimicrobials in Canadian packing plants to avoid the risk of losing the U.S. market.

“If we turn off interventions, the risk of having an incident at the U.S. border goes up,” Davidson said.

Canada plans to submit applications to Europe for the addition of two antimicrobial products, which are like vinegar and citric acid. The EU has approved lactic acid for washing carcasses, halves and quarters.

Meanwhile, European meat suppliers have wide open access to Canadian markets.

“The day that CETA goes into effect, the 26.5 percent tariff comes off so the European Union is going to have a huge opening of the Canadian market for beef and veal,” he said. “The agreement is not balanced. We would just like to be able to take advantage of the quota we’ve got.”

Nevertheless, the EU holds promise, said British market analyst Richard Brown of the Gira Meat Club, an international consulting firm monitoring world meat trade.

“The EU market is a mature market where there is a considerable fortress policy to keep out cheap imports,” he said at the Alberta Beef Industry Conference Feb. 15-17 in Red Deer.

“There is absolutely scope for Canada to secure an interesting niche position in the European market,” he said.

“You need to listen very carefully to what it is they want and deliver it and market it in a good way.”

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