Trade mission to China reflects new optimism

International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr spent a snowy lunch with leaders of Manitoba’s farming and agriculture communities in downtown Winnipeg Nov. 2 just before heading to China.  |  Ed White photo

Three federal cabinet ministers will visit China this week as Canada focuses its trade gaze on the Asian country

Snow was falling and servers were shivering, but the mood was warm and sunny as leaders of Canada and Manitoba’s farming industries mingled with government representatives to celebrate agricultural trade.

It was easy to understand why they were so happy. A few months earlier, the North American Free Trade Agreement was in doubt, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership seemed to be stalling in Parliament, and it felt like trade with China was getting snarled.

On a snowy Nov. 2, however, in Winnipeg’s Market Square, everything seemed brighter. The CPTPP had just been passed, NAFTA had been saved and three senior federal government ministers were about to leave for China to boost Canada-China trade.

“It’s a great opportunity to help advance our issues with China on agriculture,” Brian Innes, president of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance, said about the joint trip of International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr and Finance Minister Bill Morneau to China, which is happening at the same time that Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay visits the country.

Carr was at the event and seemed buoyed by all the good trade developments.

“We’re broadening and deepening our relationship with China because of its importance to Canada,” said Carr.

“Our producers are looking to export more to Asia. They will be able to do that because of the CPTPP. We think that it’s a very good moment for Canadian trade.”

The nature of that trade was on display and being given out at the A Taste of Trade event, with hot beef sandwiches distributed by Manitoba Beef Producers, pork belly wraps offered by HyLife and baked goods and snacks offered by the cereal and canola industries.

Claude Vielfaure, president of HyLife, said he’s looking at increased sales to Japan and China.

“Our relationship with China is growing and getting better, and to get more access to China, especially on the fresh chilled side, would be exciting,” said Vielfaure.

“We do a lot of fresh chilled in Japan but I think there’s an opportunity to do it in China also.”

Fresh chilled pork, shipped directly from Western Canada, can be sold for more than the frozen pork that traditionally represented most of Canada’s exports to Asia. However, supply chains are now good enough to get the unfrozen product there, and with CPTPP giving a tariff advantage to Canadian pork over U.S. pork in Japan, the industry expects sales to surge.

“There’s a lot of optimism, a lot of opportunity. Now we have to put it into gear,” said Rick Bergmann, chair of the Canadian Pork Council.

Innes said lots of progress can be made in China without having to negotiate an overall free trade agreement. Right now a number of biotech crop developments in canola need to be approved in China before Canadian farmers can grow those types, such as Tru Flex, and having Canadian officials in China now helps get those approvals through the system.

Cereals Canada president Cam Dahl said there are a number of technical issues in Canada-China agriculture trade, and it’s easier to resolve them when officials of both countries get together.

“It’s about relationships, especially in Asia, especially in China,” said Dahl.

Agriculture and farming are important industries in Winnipeg, but Winnipeggers often don’t realize that reality. However, the A Taste of Trade event brought out both Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman and provincial Liberal leader Dougald Lamont.

“We grow a lot more than we eat,” said Lamont.

“I have a huge Maple Leaf plant in my riding.… We want to make sure we can keep selling product across Canada and around the world.”

The gently falling snow and the chilly wind didn’t seem to affect the willingness of people to linger at the event for more than an hour, perhaps due to the glow of relief at all the recent trade developments.

“It’s pretty amazing that after eight years since Canada started this TPP discussion that we’re actually going to implement it before the end of 2018,” said Innes.

“We’ve got access to Europe. We’ve got access to the Asia-Pacific through the CPTPP. Now we’re looking to advance things with China.”

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