Alberta beef industry hopeful with NAFTA negotiations at critical juncture
Alberta producers face 'four of the most important weeks for our industry for a generation'
Alberta beef producers are more optimistic than ever about a North American Free Trade Agreement deal that would avoid disrupting their industry.
They've been watching a sixth round of NAFTA talks take place in Montreal this week at a crucial time for Canada's beef industry when it comes to trade, with some vaguely positive noises coming out of the talks.
"At this stage I think we're feeling that more tangible offers are being put on the table," said Dennis Laycraft, executive vice-president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association.
"I'm certainly feeling more optimistic than I was in November," Laycraft added.
At the same time as renegotiating NAFTA, Canada just reached a deal on the newly renamed Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, following talks in Japan.
The new deal opens up a lucrative market for Canadian beef exports, with the U.S. absence from the deal creating a big opportunity.
'Most important weeks'
"Having that agreement approved now is a big deal," said Laycraft, who was in Japan for the talks.
"These next four weeks are four of the most important weeks for our industry for a generation," he said.
While wanting to avoid major upheaval and the spectre of new tariffs, Alberta producers do want to see NAFTA modernized to cover changes to their industry over the last two decades, including areas like digital trade and modern meat inspection systems.
"We've been able to trade genetics, live animals, semen, embryos across all borders and we need to continue that trade," said Kelly Smith-Fraser, a producer east of Innisfail, Alta.
"It's important for our own herds, for the enhancement of our breeds and for breed improvement," said Smith-Fraser.
Another area that's important to many producers now is easy access to U.S.-based livestock data.
"Our breeds and producers utilize a lot of data and we need to be able to access that data freely and if there's tariffs placed on data, as well as live animals and genetics, that would have implications for producers here," she said.
"Revisions to NAFTA are likely needed but maybe not a complete rewrite or throwing the deal out the window, as some people have suggested. I think cooler heads will prevail and we're seeing some positive news this week," she added.