Canada-EU beef trade deal not working as well as hoped

The Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement is not as profitable as anticipated for Alberta beef producers due to differing health standards between Canada and the European Union.

European health standards too costly and complicated for Albertan beef exporters

Doug Sawyer, who raises cattle near Red Deer, had a good start to the year and plans to do his certification application for exporting beef to Europe. (Vincent Bonnay/CBC)

A difference in food health standards between the European Union and Canada is being blamed for beef exports falling short of expectations, despite a promising modification to a trade agreement between Canada and Europe.

In 2017, the landmark Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) was established, removing tariffs imposed on Canadian production.

At first, this was good news for beef producers. But they have been unable to take full advantage of the agreement, and they believe it's due to different health standards required by Europe.

In 2018, Canada sent just 3.1 per cent of the 50,000 tonnes of meat authorized for export each year, and in 2017 only 2.3 per cent.

That means CETA earned only $12.7 million for Canadian producers last year, according to Global Affairs Canada.

Roadblocks to export

According to Rich Smith, head of the Alberta Beef Producers, the modified CETA deal has the potential to make the industry approximately $600 million annually.

He calls it a missed opportunity for Albertans dealing in the beef export.

"We miss an opportunity to take full advantage of it because of a number of obstacles," said Smith.

Europe does not allow the use of growth hormones and antibiotics during beef production, both of which are used commonly in beef production in Canada.

That means those raising cattle for export in Canada must often adjust their method of production on their farms to be approved, which can be costly.

Beyond extra cost, another roadblock is that there are not enough veterinarians who are able to certify farms by EU standards.

"There is an overall lack of veterinarians in our industry and that is a problem," said Smith.

"But even the veterinarians that we have, not all of them are able to certify cattle for EU exports."

Rich Smith, head of the Alberta Beef Producers, says the CETA deal could still be worth up to $600 million annually for the Alberta cattle industry. (Vincent Bonnay/CBC)

Reality check

Christian Siviere, an expert in international trade, says CETA caused excitement for many but how it plays out is more complicated.

"In CETA, there is no harmonization of regulations, no harmonization of standards, said Siviere.

"European standards remain in place, Canadian standards remain in place, and that is what may have been badly gauged or poorly estimated at the outset."

This costly and complicated process of certification has caused cattle farmers to be hesitant to invest in applying to be certified for European beef shipment.

It's a strong signal that there is demand. This is the signal I was waiting for to start.- Doug Sawyer, cattle farmer

Red Deer cattle farmer Doug Sawyer says he had a strong start to 2019, and based on that, plans to do his certification application this year.

"It's a strong signal that there is demand," he said. "This is the signal I was waiting for to start."

Sawyer is optimistic that CETA will end up being profitable for him, once the kinks are worked out.

"[It means] getting the European parliament to understand that the processes we use here in Canada are even higher than the ones that they use there," said Sawyer.

"Those non-technical trade barriers have really held us up over the past few years."

Whether other Albertans follow Saywer's example remains to be seen.

With files from Vincent Bonnay


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