Canada will push for a resumption of live cattle exports to China, suspended since an outbreak of mad cow disease in 2003, when its trade minister leads the country’s largest trade delegation this week.
Canadian International Trade Minister Jim Peterson told reporters on Jan 19 that he would broach the topic when he meets Chinese Commerce Minister Bo Xilai on Jan. 20, hoping to give its C$7 billion ($5.7 billion) beef industry a shot in the arm.
“I will urge China to open its borders to live cattle,” said Peterson, who was in Shanghai ahead of Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin’s visit to the capital.
“We believe the science has indicated the risks are totally acceptable by international standards,” he added.
An outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) plunged the Canadian beef sector into crisis in 2003, because it was heavily dependent on exports of live cattle.
Canadian processed beef exports have partially recovered to 450,000 tons - or C$1.9 billion - in 2004.
But the episode taught farmers the need to develop more domestic processing capacity and open new Asian markets, Ted Haney, president of the Canada Beef Export Federation, said in an interview.
Two recent cases of mad cow disease in Canada have led some US groups to oppose a reopening of the US market to Canadian exports, which Washington had set for March 7.
In Asia, mad cow disease is seen as a North American issue, so restoring Canada-US trade could help both countries regain market share lost to Australia and New Zealand, Haney said.
Around the region, Taiwan’s approval process was delayed after the most recent BSE cases, and Indonesian talks were interrupted by last month’s tsunami. Those two countries were still likely to reopen soonest to Canadian beef, Haney said.
Japan could open to US and Canadian cattle aged less than 21 months in the late spring, Haney predicted.
Canada’s beef industry has been late to court Asia, but hopes to raise annual exports to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan to 127,000 tons by 2010 from 44,000 tons before the mad cow scare.
“This crisis has taught us to internationalise a very traditional industry,” said Haney, whose family raised beef cattle on 7,000 acres in southern Alberta.
Chinese beef consumption is a low 4 kg per person per year, and concentrated mostly along the wealthy eastern coast. But the sheer size of the population makes it one of the top five beef markets in the world.
Beijing agreed late last year to import Canadian beef semen and embryos - a trade worth C$17 million a year. Negotiations are under way also to resume imports of beef tallow, used in industry and animal feed.
Canada exported C$10 million of cattle, beef and beef products, C$35 million of tallow and C$3 million of cosmetics to China in 2002, the last full year before the ban was enacted.
Reopening the trade would allow Canada to meet Chinese demand for specific cuts of beef and raise exports to the Asian country to 31,000 tons by 2010, from 1,400 tons in 2002, Haney said. ($1=1.224 Canadian Dollar) (Reuters)