‘We’re being taken advantage of’

Ireland is exporting more beef to Canada than Canada sells to the EU, a region with 500 million people. | File photo

As predicted, cattle producers are reaping the benefits of the Canada-Europe free trade deal — but not in this country.

In April, the Irish Times reported that Ireland’s beef exports to Canada have increased 700 percent since 2017, when the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement came into effect.

The massive increase in beef exports is based on data from the Canadian embassy in Dublin.

Suzanne Drisdelle, chargé d’affaires at the embassy, championed the value of CETA when she spoke to an Irish government committee in April.

“Certain sectors of the Irish economy have seen a significant growth in exports to Canada since 2016, including dairy, baked goods, textiles, beverages, Irish whiskey and spirits. During this timeframe, Irish beef exports to Canada increased by 700 percent and cheese exports by over 400 percent,” the Times reported Drisdelle as saying.

In Canadian dollars:

  • Ireland exported $20.4 million worth of beef to Canada in 2020, up from $3.4 million in 2017.
  • In 2020, Canada exported $32.7 million in beef to the EU, up slightly from $28 million in 2019.
  • When sales to the United Kingdom are removed, Canada shipped $15 million in beef to EU countries (including Ireland).

All of this means Ireland is exporting more beef to Canada than Canada sells to the EU, a region with 500 million people.

The Irish beef exports to Canada were part of a larger trend in 2020.

Last year, EU countries shipped $129.4 million worth of beef to Canada. That’s up 253 percent from 2019, when the EU exported $45 million in beef to Canada.

In 2018, EU beef exports to Canada were $15 million.

Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and Germany are also selling more beef to Canada.

The massive growth in EU sales are ironic because Canadian beef exports to Europe were expected to boom, not the other way around.

Cattle producers are not amused by the irony.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association hears from many ranchers who are angry about CETA, said Bob Lowe, CCA president.

“It’s a highly charged (issue),” said Lowe, a rancher and feedlot operator from Nanton, Alta. “As the CCA we get… a lot of crap over the CETA agreement…. From producers that are saying, I’ll put it bluntly, what the hell did you sign an agreement like that for?”

The CCA usually explains to ranchers that it didn’t sign the agreement. The deal is between the governments of Canada and Europe.

But when it was finalized in 2017, the CCA was hopeful about the deal. The association expected the Europeans to embrace the spirit of free trade and openly accept Canadian beef.

That’s not happening.

“Obviously, we’re being taken advantage of,” Lowe said, noting the beef trade deficit with Europe is now almost $100 million. “That’s $100 million that could be going into Canada’s economy. Instead, it’s going out of Canada’s economy…. The big mistake is we assumed that the EU would go with science-based trade. And they aren’t. Shame on us for actually believing that they would live up to the protocols.”

As part of CETA, Canada received a tariff-free quota of 50,000 tonnes of beef for Europe, which should have translated into exports worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

In a newsletter from early June, Canada Beef, which promotes Canadian beef around the world, said Canada only used 835 tonnes of the quota in 2020.

“Limitations on Canadian beef supply, additional export requirements for the EU, competition from other suppliers and lack of knowledge about Canadian beef, have all hindered Canada’s ability to take greater advantage (of the quota),” Canada Beef said.

Supply is limited because the EU will only accept beef from Canada that’s been certified to meet certain standards, such as no use of growth hormones in beef production.

To get certified, a vet must visit the farm.

“Right now, the CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) says we need to use licensed veterinarians to verify EU compatible farms,” Lowe said. “But there’s not enough vets (around) to supply that (service).”

Plus, Canadian slaughter plants use a certain product to wash the beef carcass, but the EU doesn’t permit its use. Other countries accept it, but Europe won’t.

Beef packers have to segregate their production lines and use a different chemical, which adds complication and cost.

There’s also the question of motivation. Why take the extra steps and the hassle of satisfying European rules, when countries like Japan, China, Vietnam and South Korean want to buy Canadian beef?

Lowe believes issues with the CFIA can be sorted out, making it easier to certify farms for EU standards.

“I’m sure we can work with the CFIA to change the stuff we can change in Canada,” he said. “If it’s profitable for our packers to send beef over there, they will.”

But for that to happen, Europe needs to adopt the spirt of a free trade deal and accept that trade goes both ways.

“What’s frustrating is the amount of stuff coming in under CETA,” said Lowe, who pointed to beef from Ireland.

“Imports from Ireland were 3,182 tonnes in 2020… up 580 percent from 2016. And we didn’t export one single pound of beef to Ireland in 2020…. It’s frustrating as hell.”

In an email to the Western Producer, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada said CETA is a “good deal.”

“Canadian agricultural exports to the EU rose more than 59 percent from 2016 to 2020, and Canadian officials are working closely with the industry to identify ways to increase exports of beef and pork products that comply with EU standards,” the email said.

“To facilitate Canadian meat exports to the EU, Canadian and European officials have recently published online simplified instructions for Canadian exporters… (of) pork, beef and bison.

“CETA is a good deal for Canadians and will support Canada’s sustainable, inclusive post-COVID economic recovery.”


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