Having been active in farming for most of my life, I know the importance of trade and moving agricultural products from producers to market. Simply put, without customers, farmers can’t make any money.
And that’s one of the reasons why I’ve spent the week in China – to expand the customer base of Alberta’s farmers by making sure that the Chinese know they can have faith in the products our farmers want to sell them – whether it’s beef, pork or canola.
Since 2003, China has been entirely closed to Alberta beef, despite the fact that other Asian markets have opened their borders, to varying degrees, including Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam.
Beyond beef, China has other restrictions and barriers impacting other agriculture products that are important to Alberta.
These trade barriers cause hardships for agricultural producers in Alberta by unfairly denying them open access to more than a billion customers.
So the message I took to my meeting this week with Han Changfu, China’s Minister of Agriculture, was one of open trade.
I told Minister Changfu how appreciative we were that China has reopened its markets to Alberta pork and I encouraged a similar approach to lifting their ban on our beef.
In fact, I was pleased to promote Alberta pork at one of our receptions over there, and hope to have other opportunities in the future to spotlight additional Alberta products.
I told him that Alberta cattle are among the healthiest in the world, and subject to some of the most stringent health and safety standards you’ll find on the planet.
Whether the consumer is in China or in Alberta, they should expect only the highest standards of quality and safety when it comes to food.
Fortunately, Minister Changfu shares that concern.
During our 45-minute meeting, he expressed an interest to learn about our traceability system for cattle. I told him that in January 2009, traceability became an industry requirement. Now, beef cattle are ear-tagged and their movements through the value-chain are monitored. If there are any problems, they can be traced right back to the source.
That is a system in which consumers can have faith.
I also shared with Minister Changfu how our canola exports address China’s food supply needs and benefit their farmers. The current blackleg restrictions imposed on our canola jeopardize that. It is important that China understands we will continue to work with them to address plant health concerns regarding canola to ensure safe trade.
For his part, Minister Changfu agreed that more cooperation between Alberta and China is critical for both jurisdictions. He expressed his desire to exchange information, ideas and even personnel as it relates to beef cattle breeding, propagation and disease control. He also wanted more cooperation between China and Alberta on agricultural food processing, safety, standards, inspection and accreditation.
I invited Minister Changfu to Alberta, so that he can see for himself the high standards we uphold in our agriculture industry. And for the opportunity for us to work together to promote agriculture in both countries.
We need to be mindful that the Chinese system of government and its economic system are far more controlled than our own. That’s why it’s important for me to be here as an advocate for Albertans and Alberta businesses involved in food production. Government-to-government relationships need to be nurtured first so that business opportunities can be further developed.
Minister Changfu closed the meeting by saying he supports addressing Alberta’s concerns about China’s closed border on some of our products. I’m hopeful that we’ll see changes in China’s approach towards the flow of trade between us.