China’s decision to temporarily close its doors to Canadian beef is a serious setback, says the head of the Alberta industry group.
Charlie Christie, chair of the Alberta Beef Producers, said exports to China have grown dramatically in the past two years. In the first quarter of 2019, imports of Canadian beef were up 445 per cent alone.
“To do anything to interrupt that momentum, that’s where the challenge lies. When we get this straightened out, you have to rebuild that momentum.
“I’m optimistic that will happen fairly quickly, due to the fact that there’s obviously a marketplace there that wants our beef and this will create challenges for them,” said Christie, who farms north of Torrington.
On Tuesday, China asked Canada to suspend all meat exports.
The Chinese said customs inspectors detected residue from a restricted feed additive, called ractopamine, in a batch of Canadian pork products. The additive has permitted uses in Canada, but is banned in China.
Further investigation revealed counterfeit veterinary health certificates attached to the batch of pork exported to China.
Christie said it’s disappointing beef has been caught up in the dispute.
“We’ve been kind of keeping our heads down hoping it wouldn’t happen.
“China is a valuable opportunity for us, but we are not naive enough to think it’s a stable marketplace. Anything can happen at any time, and we’re caught up in this now.”
He said China has a mammoth economy and it will do what it wants. About 2.6 per cent of Canadian beef exports goes to China.
“We’re a bit of a fly on their shoulder,” Christie said.
Christie hoped a political solution can be found soon, with both the provincial and federal governments working together to extricate beef from the export suspension.
Markerville-area rancher Richard Lorenz said he was happy to see Premier Jason Kenney and Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen get to work quickly on the dispute.
But he wondered how dedicated their federal counterparts were to solving issues impacting farmers, since Canadian canola is still banned from China.
“That’s the downside and the disappointing side. Do they care about us in Western Canada? This is our livelihood,” Lorenz said.
He said the impact of a beef ban could be devastating.
“Look what happened after BSE. It took Japan a lot of years to open the border for us. It’s disappointing for sure.”
Lorenz said this year, the cattle industry was looking good in central Alberta, with timely moisture for crops and pastures to feed herds. But some parts of Western Canada have been hit by drought, and last summer’s drought means there are no surplus piles of feed.
— With files from The Canadian Press