With the US still struggling to get out of the recession, Canadian farmers have begun to look east.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz led a mission to Japan to create new export opportunities by meeting with newly elected officials and kickstarting the Canada Brand Initiative in Japan with an initial investment of $1 million.
"It was critical for us to get on the ground here in Japan to meet new government members within their first 100 days in office," said Minister Ritz. "The discussions officials are having right now will set the agricultural agenda here for the long-term and we're making sure agriculture remains a cornerstone of the strong trade relationship between Canada and Japan."
Minister Ritz also raised Canada's long-standing request for greater access for Canadian beef in the Japanese market. Canadian beef is recognized as safe according to international scientific organizations such as the OIE, the World organisation for animal health.
Access for Canadian beef exports to Japan are currently restricted to products from animals under 21 months of age.
Minister Ritz also announced an initial investment of $1 million to kickstart the Canada Brand Initiative in Japan. The announcement is part of the Canada's global $32 million Canada Brand Initiative that will drive market research, advertising, store features and other promotional activities. This initiative is one more way Canada's Economic Action Plan is working for Canadian farmers.
"Japanese families are looking for Canadian foods when they go to the grocery store and the Canada Brand Initiative will make sure they can find the maple leaf on the great products our farmers grow," said Minister Ritz. "This kind of initiative can turn opportunities into realities with full order sheets and premium prices going back to Canadian producers."
As it happened, while in Japan, the minister ran to a provincial politician, Alberta's Agriculture Minister George Groeneveld who said he was leading a provincial delegation. "Japan is a vital market for Canadian farmers and we're working together at every level to create new opportunities," said Minister Ritz later.
"Alberta is a net exporter of agricultural goods. We produce more than we consume so exports are of paramount importance and Asia is a priority." said Penny Mah, team lead in international marketing with the government's Albertan Agriculture and Rural Development Department.
"The potential for growth is unlimited. It's more a case of what we can supply."
Alberta exported $2.12 billion in produce to Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong last year, accounting for about a quarter of its total exports and that figure is rising fast.
Between 2006 and 2008 exports to Asia soared 65%, according to government figures.
Meantime the Atlantic Canadian lobster made a splash in China during a recent 10-day promotional tour by industry and government staff.
Industry representatives made significant progress in developing business relationships during the tour that marketed live lobster to cities with booming economies and populations of about eight million people each. A Chinese partner has immediate plans to expand and buy more Atlantic lobster, a Nova Scotia government press release said.
"Our lobster industry is vital to the future growth and prosperity of our province, especially for the many Nova Scotians who live in our coastal communities," said Sterling Belliveau, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture. "This project provided the Nova Scotia lobster industry with a great opportunity to showcase our premium Atlantic Canadian lobster in a significant Asian market.
"This is just the first of many possible opportunities to boost our exports to China."
The live lobster China tour was developed by the Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association. The industry-driven project received financial support from the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and industry partners.
"It was really an eye-opener to see the growing wealth and economic activity in China," said Peter Swim, president of Island Marine Products, one of the project partners. "This market in China offers a great opportunity for us to sell our live lobsters."