Navigating the trade waters

This is the final instalment of our series on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union. Writers from Glacier FarmMedia, which includes The Western Producer, interviewed experts to assess the value of CETA to Canada’s agricultural community. The previous stories in this series are all linked below.

With a consumer base of more than 500 million people and annual economic activity of $18 trillion, the European Union is one of Canada’s most significant trading partners, second only to the United States.

That relationship is about to be tested with the ratification of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, a historic trade deal that will see tariffs fall and markets open.

Touted as our nation’s most ambitious trade deal ever, CETA has the potential to benefit all Canadian industries eyeing exports, including food and beverage processing.

But is the industry ready to seize the opportunities the agreement will offer?

When it comes into force next year, CETA will open market access for both trading partners by eliminating almost all tariffs between the two markets (with some phased out over several years) and reducing some non-tariff barriers.

Other stories in this Special Report:

A 2009 joint Canada-EU study, Assessing the Costs and Benefits of a Closer EU-Canada Economic Partnership, showed that such a deal could boost bilateral trade by 20 percent while adding $12 billion to the Canadian economy.

In addition to this preferential access, the deal will allow for mutual recognition of professional standards, access to government contracts and access to new technology and investment.

It promises to create jobs, increase the flow of goods, services and investment and serve as a platform for markets beyond the EU.

Industries that face high tariffs, such as agriculture and the food and beverage processing industry, have potentially the most to gain.

“From a market access perspective, I can’t imagine how it would be anything except really good for the food industry,” said Larry Martin of agri-food consulting firm Dr. Larry Martin & Associates and partner at Agri-Food Management Excellence Inc.

“Whether you look at it from a raw food perspective or from a food perspective, removing all that protection can’t be anything but a good thing.”

Beef, pork and bison processors will see immediate gains, as will cereals, canola, maple syrup, pet food and confectionery.

“The question is whether the Canadian industry has the wherewithal to get after it or not,” said Martin, because exporting is just not on the radar for most processors.

Martin sees inefficiency, as well as the high presence of multinationals in the Canadian market, as roadblocks to exporting.

“Beyond that, the data show that we’ve been disinvesting in the food processing industry in Canada for the past 10 years,” he said,

“So what do we have with the economies of scale to actually compete well in? We’ve got to get bigger plants, better equipment and/or we’ve got to maintain our advantage on flexibility, which we used to have, and start to be more aggressive in terms of product development.”

Jean-Charles Le Vallée, senior research associate for the Conference Board of Canada-Centre for Food, agreed.

“A lot of our food market doesn’t think outside Canada, but that’s where most of the business is going to grow.”

As well as developing a more outward focus, he said Canadian processors must be prepared to ad-dress non-tariff barriers, including growth hormone in beef.

“If we don’t address these issues, we can’t access the European market, so you might see a shift away from those in the sector,” he said.

Other barriers include food safety certification, differences in labelling, regulations, allowable ingredients, product size and even non-tangible barriers such as pricing and marketing.

“It’s great that tariffs are eliminated, but we can’t take advantage of it if we don’t understand the market,” Le Vallée said, who emphasized that the EU is not one but 28 markets, all with different sub-regional markets.

“It’s a mature, high-end market, so it’s great for premium or niche products. But you really have to understand the food culture, and what we can produce that meets those demands that they don’t produce themselves already. ”

Doing your homework well in advance is essential to success in the diverse and highly competitive EU market.

“It’s not at all a homogeneous market like the U.S., and you’re not facing one set of rules at the border,” said Danielle Goldfarb, director of the Conference Board of Canada’s Global Commerce Centre.

“It’s a question of looking at the different markets in Europe and understanding the types of opportunities you can leverage, rather than assuming you can just make your product and send it there.”

Goldfarb said having a face-to-face presence and showing cultural understanding will help in navigating the market.

“CETA won’t address market preferences and the necessity to innovate and differentiate,” Goldfarb said.

“As with any trade deal, those people who are going to benefit the most from it are those who are the most innovative and creative and who differentiate their products.”

The Global Commerce Centre’s report, For Innovators Only: Canadian Companies’ EU Export Experience, looked at more than 9,000 Canadian companies exporting to the EU. It found that product innovation was critical to success in the market, regardless of company size.

“We found a very clear causal relationship between exporting new products to the EU market and remaining in that market and growing your sales,” Goldfarb said.

“We also know from our research that a number of Canadian companies were not immediately profitable when they went to Europe, and that’s because they didn’t anticipate how different the market was going to be.”

As well, the report found that success in more mature EU markets was generally easier than in emerging EU markets, which made it crucial to pick the right destination for your product.

“To really succeed, you’ve got to go to where there’s demand and where you’re able to respond to that de-mand,” he said.

The conference board is forecasting a 13 percent growth in agricultural products to the EU and nine percent growth in food and beverage products annually over the next five years, mainly as a result of the CETA deal.

“You’ve got all that growth taking place in the export market, but we’re losing market share,” Martin said.

“The world’s out there waiting for us to take advantage of what it offers.”

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