Trade agreement with China big deal for South Okanagan cherry growers

By on July 2, 2014

Cherry growers in B.C. have a reason to celebrate after a lucrative trade agreement was signed between the governments of Canada and China.

This agreement will lead to unimpeded access for fresh B.C. cherries into China, which will generate millions of dollars a year in new revenue.

Provincial Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick recently toured China with federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz as part of a trade mission.

“The B.C. government has worked closely with cherry growers, the federal government and Chinese importers to reach this agreement,” Letnick said.

He noted the government will build on this momentum to help gain access for B.C. blueberries, as well as expand the markets for B.C. pork, wine, seafood and other products.

“The deals we’re making on this trade mission could easily result in an increase in B.C. agri-food exports of about $100 million within a few years. The opportunities in China are huge,” Letnick said.

The trade mission advanced B.C. cherry export interests through a special arrangement – a trial shipping period that will lead to permanent access valued by industry at $20 million.

China also agreed to expedite work that will allow for the sale of fresh blueberries.

Once fully implemented, the Canadian blueberry industry estimates this new access will be valued at up to $65 million annually.

Don Westcott, senior director of marketing for the B.C. Cherry Association, said the new trade agreement is excellent news for all B.C. cherry producers.

“B.C. is recognized internationally as a premium quality cherry producer, but up until recently, we have not been able to ship to China,” Westcott said. “With direct access to this huge market, we will likely see more stability in prices from both export and domestic markets.”

He noted that China has a strong demand for cherries, so gaining access to this market will see growers getting premium prices for their product.

Westcott said B.C. Tree Fruits is excited because the cherry harvest is just getting started, and it looks to be a great quality crop this year.

Fred Steele, president of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association (BCFGA), believes the $20 million deal with China is the start of a good, long-term relationship that will truly benefit growers and lead to many spin-off effects in the tree fruit industry.

But it hasn’t been easy.

Steele said they’ve had trouble getting into the Chinese market for some time.

In fact, they had to prove (via a market access project) that B.C. cherries had no cherry fruit fly problems.

Steele said the cherry deal would definitely contribute to the government’s agri-foods strategy of expanding international markets – helping the agriculture sector become a $14 billion a year industry by 2017.

In 2013, British Columbia exported $2.7 billion worth of agri-foods to more than 140 countries, an increase of about $200 million from the year before.

China is now the second-largest export market for B.C. agri-foods, and last year, exports to China increased to $234 million, up $64 million from the previous year.

B.C. Cherry Council representative Christine Dendy said Canadian cherry production is expanding rapidly and the opening of China’s markets to Canadian cherries is a very important opportunity.

“Chinese demand for premium-quality fruit is strong, and that is what we can deliver.”

British Columbia is the number one producer and exporter of sweet cherries in Canada.

In 2013, B.C. exported close to $42 million worth of sweet cherries to 21 different countries.

LYONEL DOHERTY

Special to the Times

 

 

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