China, Canada seek to increase agricultural trade

Updated: 2015-07-02 05:25

By XU WEI in Beijing(China Daily Canada)

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China and Canada is looking to further boost the trade and technological cooperation in the agricultural sector as the two countries marked the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations, according to experts and officials from the two countries.

China is Canada’s second-largest market for its agricultural, agri-food, seafood and beverage products. In 2014, the trade volume was valued about 26 billion yuan(CAD 5.3 billion).

However, Stephen Yarrow, vice president of CropLife Canada, the trade association representing the developers, manufacturers, and distributors of plant science innovations in Canada, believed that China has much larger potential in the importing of agricultural products from Canada.

"We want to expand on the exporting of agricultural products to China. The big objective of our trip is to expand trade with China, trade in Canadian agricultural products. That covers a lot of different things: livestock animals, meat, blueberries, canola and soybeans,” he said.

Yarrow was part of a delegation of agricultural officials, company executives and trade union representatives that visits Beijing in June to hold talks with their Chinese counterparts on the expansion of agricultural trade.

The delegation, led by Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Deputy Minister Andrea Lyon, also aimed to further pitch particular agricultural produces, especially the Canola oil.

During a speech in Chongqing last week, Lyon highlighted the strengths of Canada’s agriculture sector, and Canada’s commitment to serving the needs of the Chinese market.

Chen Xiaohua, vice-minister of agriculture, said in a meeting with Lyon in Beijing on June 17 that China is willing to deepen the cooperation with Canada in the agricultural technologies, and push forward the sustainable development of the sector.

The authority is also willing to push forward the bilateral agricultural investments, and to help expand the agricultural trade, Chen was quoted as saying in a statement released by the ministry.

One of the major hurdles to overcome as the two countries seek to expand on the agricultural trade is the issue of GM foods products.

Yarrow said he believed the understanding of agricultural regulatory system of both countries is important as the two countries looks to expand on agricultural trade.

"Canada has a regulatory system, which has been in place for 20 years. China too has a regulatory system. So one areas that is very important from the industry's view is that the two countries to collaborate using best practices and understanding each country's regulatory systems, and learning from each other,” he said.

One of the major hurdles to overcome as the two countries seek to expand on the agricultural trade is the issue of GM foods products.

China has remained highly prudent over the marketing of domestic GM products as the agricultural authorities have only approved the commercial cultivation of GM cotton and papaya.

The country has also previously rejected millions of tons of GM corn imports from the United States, as the shipments was found to have contained the MIR 162 strain of corn, which was not yet to be approved by Chinese agricultural authorities.

"To me, China has the world’s world-class modern plant breeding technologies and scientists. It is the agricultural products that the country is lagging behind. So we are trying to understand why that happens and what we can do to help,” he said.

Yarrow said a majority of agricultural products produces in Canada such as canola, corn and soybeans are is genetically enhanced, and GM products are part of the food supply in the country. Canadians have been consumers of these products for many years with no safety concerns.

Canada can also share with China its regulatory experience of GM foods products, he said, as he believed the country’s system is among the best systems in the world.

"We too have suffered from incidents of consumers who are misinformed and spread misinformation about those products. What is going in China is the same in those countries,” he said. However, quite different from China, the Canadian public has a very high level of trust in the Canadian regulatory system.

Meanwhile, Yarrow believes that the industry, the government and experts all need to communicate about the agricultural production with the public much more effectively to remove the irrational scare.

"The public needs to be educated. Now in China, with 53 percent of the population lives in urban areas, they might need to know more about the agricultural production,” he said.

However, Yarrow believes that the country will become a leading country in the world in the research and application of agricultural technologies, including GM technology, "in a not too distant future”.

"The plant biotechnology, including GM technology, will enable China to feed itself much more effectively. It will also give the farmers much more choices to diversify their products and increase their income,” he said.