Cdn. beef industry can play in the big league despite trade challenges

By Tim Kalinowski


Charlie Christie, chair of the Alberta Beef Producers, says the key to weathering trade storms like we have seen with China these past few months is to diversify the scope of Canadian trade as a whole.

“I think what we have to do as an industry, and as a nation, is understand that China is a volatile market for us,” he says. “There is huge opportunity there, but many times with huge reward there is often high risk.

“We need to recognize that,” he states, “and we need to be ready to deal with that risk when it happens.

“My own personal view is we need to cognizant this is a volatile market we’re dealing with,” Christie adds, “and our better bet would be to expand our markets elsewhere, which we are doing, and doing a very good job of, to create stability that way.”

The recent China ban on Canadian beef may be “erroneous” states Christie, but it is a reality we have to deal with, while also keeping in mind the ban isn’t the end of the world for the Canadian beef industry.

“When you look at the CPTPP and our bilateral trade with South Korea; those are two valuable vehicles right there that could gobble up that 2.6 per cent in a heartbeat,” he says. “That is where our industry and the government will focus if this (China ban) drags on.”

But still, he says, the China ban is admittedly a bitter pill to swallow after Canadian beef had seen great momentum in that country in recent months.

“The real disappointing part is over the first quarter of this year, we ramped up that volume shipped to China by 445 per cent,” he states. “So another $48 million increase in the first quarter; so that’s a huge jump, and to interrupt that kind of momentum— that’s where the challenge lies.

“Hopefully, there can be a quick resolution to this thing, but I am not naive enough to think it might not drag on.

“Our industry and our government are all working on this thing,” he adds, “and I don’t know if there is much more we can ask for at this point.”

Christie says despite this disappointment, the Canadian beef industry is an all-star player in the international trade game, and that won’t change any time soon.

“It puts a little more challenge in the game,” he says. “I am not even sure it is a gamechanger so much as it puts a little higher level of intensity on the game. It’s a game we’re pretty good at playing worldwide. We have a premium product, and I am pretty sure we can find a marketplace for it.”