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NEWS: CETA talks reportedly down to beef exports to Europe

CBC reports, “The final beefs around Canada’s negotiating table (for the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) this week are about red meat.”

“The European Union’s ambassador to Canada, Matthias Brinkmann, said last month that European negotiators offered to allow the minimum quantity Canadian beef producers say would be required to justify separate streams of hormone and antibiotics-free cattle to comply with EU regulations: 40,000 tons a year (from the current 23,200 tons a year). But that wasn’t enough for Canada, he said. …It’s a priority for provincial governments too – especially the four western provinces, which identified beef market access as a priority for the Canada-EU talks. CBC reported last week that the federal government has been contacting provinces to discuss the final aspects of the deal and confirm their approval, thought to be a final step before concluding the talks. If no major gains are made on beef, the deal risks losing domestic support.”

“Twenty-five years ago, Europe was Canada’s second-biggest beef customer. But as Europe’s common market took hold in the 1980s, changes in the EU’s meat processing regulations and a ban on the use of hormone products common in North America slowed beef trade to a trickle. …Only a handful of Canadian slaughter facilities are certified for export to the EU (but) Canadians argue, doesn’t mean that meat on this side of the Atlantic is any less safe for consumers.”

“France and Ireland currently supply the bulk of Europe’s beef, dating back to the collapse of the U.K. industry after its mad cow crisis. Farmers wield a lot of political clout in both countries, and Brinkmann told reporters that what Canada was asking for would be ‘suicidal’ for farmers in these countries. Political leaders in both places could receive visits from Harper starting next week, with high-level political arm-twisting expected in the final days before an agreement in principle could be announced, perhaps before the G8 meetings in Northern Ireland June 17-18.”

In terms of issues related to quantity of exports, labelling, and food safety:

1. Council of Canadians trade campaigner Stuart Trew has written, “The EU is not willing to accept beef or pork from Canada containing hormones or antibiotics, which is most of it. (And yet) the National Farmers Union has pointed out that Canada used less than half its existing hormone-free beef quota in 2011 and none of its antibiotic-free pork quota, begging the question of why getting more quota would be of any consequence to Canada let alone be creating such a problem in the CETA negotiations.”

2. Trew has also noted, “According to the US government, under the Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) program, ‘retailers must provide their customers with information about the origin of various food products, including fruits, vegetables, fish and shellfish and meats.’ …But a policy victory for US consumers was portrayed as an attack on non-US meat producers by the Canadian and Mexican governments in their joint WTO cases against COOL. Canada argued that COOL involved a ‘lengthy labelling and tracking system with an unnecessary paperwork burden and additional red tape.'”

3. The Harper government has also moved to cut ‘red tape’ on food safety by taking the primary inspection function away from federal regulators and handing it over to the meat packing companies themselves. Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom has commented, “In 2008, an outbreak of listeriosis at a Toronto meat packing plant killed 23 people. Two years later, tainted meat from another Toronto plant hospitalized three more.” Then last September the XL Foods slaughterhouse incident made at least nine people sick and resulted in a massive recall of meat products.

For more, please read:
Final Canada-EU trade talks down to red meat issues
Irish farmers raise volume on opposition to Canadian imports in CETA
Canada protests while U.S. consumer groups celebrate revised meat labelling policy (COOL)
VIEW: ‘XL meat scandal may be Harper’s Walkerton’, says Walkom
CETA, the Harper agenda and the tainted beef scandal in Alberta