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Pacific trade deal spurs Canadian farm sales to Japan as U.S. watches

Reuters  |  WINNIPEG, Manitoba 

By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - At the last month, beef promoters flew in a from to cook New York strip steaks for hungry Japanese importers and restaurant suppliers.

The annual Canadian beef buffet reception attracted 126 people, up sharply from the usual 30 to 40.

A trade deal among Pacific nations - called the Comprehensive and (CPTPP) - took effect on Dec. 30 among the first six of 11 member countries to ratify it, including Canada, and

CPTPP's real prize, Canadian exporters say, are reduced Japanese tariffs for beef, pork, wheat and is the world's third-largest beef importer and seventh-largest wheat buyer, often buying top-quality supplies to meet consumer demand for soft, white breads and beef raised on grain not grass.

For Canada, following a year of volatile relations with the and China, the deal offers a rare opportunity to seize market share from the United States, which withdrew from the pact after took office.

Canada's opportunity illustrates the risks of Trump's drastic trade actions. Farmers are key Trump supporters, but they have been among the hardest-hit from a trade war with

U.S. beef packers such as and also stand to lose, while Canadian grain exporters and may gain.

At the beef buffet, enthusiasm about Canadian beef transcended borders.

"The interest was as high as I've ever seen," said Dennis Laycraft, executive vice of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, who has been visiting since the 1980s. "This new agreement is one of the most significant opportunities we've seen since the original NAFTA (North American Free Trade) agreement was signed."

Among those sampling Canadian beef were buyers from the Japanese units of Costco Wholesale Corp, and JBS SA, Laycraft said. Costco declined to comment and JBS did not respond.

In a statement, Cargill said it advocates for U.S. participation in CPTPP so that exporters and consumers do not miss out on its benefits. Tyson said the company wants to see a bilateral pact between the U.S. and Japan "to ensure we remain competitive."

Sensing opportunity, Harmony Beef made it a priority last year to secure Canadian and Japanese approvals allowing it to sell to Japan. Now Harmony is planning its first shipment next month of 52,000 pounds of fresh and frozen beef.

"We put pressure on and fast-tracked the Japan approval," said Harmony's "They are an affluent society that is willing and able to pay for the best."

Japan, the world's third-largest economy, is Canada's second-biggest beef market after the Even so, Canada's sales to Japan amounted to 27,000 tonnes from January through October 2018, about what U.S. exporters ship there in one month.

Lower tariffs boost any product's competitiveness in Japan in the long run, but short-term, preferences for specific brands as well as a country's supply capacity, are also factors, said an at Japan's farm ministry, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Canada, the world's sixth-largest beef exporter overall, is the second-biggest shipper after the of grain-fed beef, which commands a premium over beef from grass-fed cattle. Japan's 38.5 percent beef tariff fell under CPTPP to around 27 percent, with further reductions coming.

The U.S. National Cattlemen's Beef Association, urged the last month to cut trade barriers to Japan, the biggest export market for U.S. beef.

"The U.S. beef industry is at risk of losing significant market share in Japan unless immediate action is taken to level the playing field," the association's said in a statement.

Other commodities are also in play.

Annual U.S. wheat sales to Japan of 3 million tonnes may fall by half over time unless the U.S. negotiates lower tariffs in upcoming bilateral talks, said Steve Mercer, at U.S. Wheat Associates, which promotes the country's wheat exports.

A for the U.S. Trade Representative, asked about exporters' concerns, referred to the negotiating objectives that it outlined in December, which included reducing Japanese tariffs.

Japan typically buys 1.5 million tonnes of high-quality Canadian wheat annually, but that volume may approach 3 million tonnes over the next nine years, predicted Cam Dahl, president of

Canadian wheat sales may start to pick up in April, once Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, which buys foreign grain, recalculates its re-sale price to mills, said Richardson's assistant for the region,

Japanese purchases of Canadian canola oil, used in cooking, already show signs of rising. shipped four containers there in the past month, its biggest monthly sales to that market in recent memory, said president

For pork, tariff reductions may allow to surpass the United States in Japanese market share, said Kazuhito Yamashita, at Institute for Global Studies.

"The U.S. could be left behind," he said. "So the U.S. must be hasty to reach an agreement."

(Reporting by in Winnipeg, Manitoba; additional reporting by in Tokyo; Editing by Tom Brown)

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, January 10 2019. 22:30 IST