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Published July 07, 2014, 10:56 AM

Trade missions work

I have recently returned from a trade mission to China, led by Gerry Ritz, Canada’s Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food. The Canadian delegation that accompanied Ritz was large.

By: Cam Dahl, Agweek

I have recently returned from a trade mission to China, led by Gerry Ritz, Canada’s Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food. The Canadian delegation that accompanied Ritz was large.

Delegates included ministers from Manitoba and British Columbia, and the Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, who was joined by her colleagues from Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In addition to Cereals Canada, the industry contingent also included representatives from other industries including barley, beef, pork, blueberries, flax and more.

Trade missions such as this one to China are not unique, and follow closely on the heels of trade missions to Korea and Japan. So why do both industry and governments put so much time and money into trade missions?

The quick answer to that question is because they work. Agricultural trade is sophisticated, technical and large. The flow of billions of dollars is guided by a myriad of conflicting government policies and regulations. Face-to-face visits between ministers, senior government officials and industry has a way of cutting through this complexity. Despite the complicated nature of the business, success in agricultural trade often comes down to one-on-one relationships. No matter how efficient and effective modern communications have become, email and social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook cannot simply replace the personal touch in business relationships.

Federal and provincial governments deserve credit for the support given to developing agricultural markets. They also deserve kudos for directly involving key industry players in market development. Governments are responsible for setting the rules for trade, and industry is responsible for sealing the deal and keeping the customer happy. These missions are a good example of how industry and government working together can get the whole job done.

A key focus for Cereals Canada is the Canadian quality advantage. Canadian farmers and industry can consistently deliver a high-quality product that processes the same way every time.

I remember growing up when my mom was baking bread and would say “this batch of flour is just not right” and the resulting bread was not quite right either. The same concept holds true for large international customers. They want their bread, noodles or other products to be the same every time they come out of the oven. The consistency of Canadian grains helps them achieve that goal.

Consistent high-quality product has always been important for key Asian markets such as Japan and is becoming more important to growing markets like China. As incomes grow across this region, people are demanding better and more consistent food products. Canadian farmers, exporters and crop development companies stand ready to meet this growing demand for quality. This is what gives Canadian cereal grains their competitive advantage.

Our customers also talked about another Canadian advantage — clean air, clean water and clean land. Canadian agriculture has a strong reputation for delivering safe food. This is a reputation that cannot be bought and must be guarded by everyone in the industry.

How can individual farmers protect Canada’s reputation for safe food? There are many examples, but perhaps the most important is rigidly following the labels when applying pesticides and seed treatments. Do you think that bit of treated seed in the back of the truck won’t do any harm? Or those few days of pre-harvest interval won’t make a difference? Think again. Consider the damage that could be done to Canada’s reputation if those few seeds push a shipment over an international maximum residue limit. And because testing is done at parts per trillion, those few seeds might just be the difference between a shipment being accepted or rejected.

Food safety concerns and environmental reputation are growing issues in international markets. Canada can, and is, delivering on our promise to provide safe, clean and reliable food. But as a trading nation, we must protect ourselves against countries that use “safety” as an excuse to block trade. We do this by fighting for trading rules that are based on strong science.

Promoting sound scientific rules for food safety and environmental sustainability is another key goal of trade missions such as the recent missions to Asia. The Government of Canada, with the strong support of industry, is leading the way internationally. Canada is using every opportunity to promote science-based trade and helping to build the scientific capacity of our trading partners. Again, this is an example of industry and government working closely together to benefit all links of the value chain — from farm gate through to our end use customers.

Canada already has a strong reputation for high-value products in the international marketplace. By working together, producers, industry and government can build on the Canadian brand and deliver long-term profit for everyone involved. That is our ultimate goal.

Editor’s note: Dahl is the president of Cereals Canada.

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