Canadian beef exports were up in 2021.

The Executive Vice President of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association Dennis Laycraft says beef exports were up 25 per cent in volume and 28 per cent in value.

The United States is our largest market followed by Japan and Mexico and then China and South Korea.

South Korea recently suspended its quarantine inspections of Canadian Beef as it looks for more information regarding that atypical case of BSE found last month in Central Alberta.

He says we have a unique veterinary certificate with Korea that we're actually in the process of recommending be changed now that we've gotten negligible risk status.

"It came as a result of a negotiation following us taking them to the WTO. "

Laycraft says more information has been sent to South Korea clarifying that it was an atypical case.

"That information now has gone to the Food Safety Authority in South Korea. Our government will be following up with them and hopefully that matter should get resolved very, very quickly. But, you know, we'll be watching it very closely. I know we're reaching out literally each day to get an update on where it's at."

Laycraft says they expect South Korea long term to be a really important market for Canadian beef.

He notes the fact the atypical case was found shows our surveillance system is working.

"To maintain the negligible risk status, you have to maintain adequate surveillance, and if countries around the world are performing adequate surveillance, it's almost inevitable. Almost anywhere in the world, you'll eventually find an atypical case study occur spontaneously. The OIE very specifically indicates it's different when you find an atypical case, it does not affect your status at all. And really, countries should not impose any, any restrictions or suspensions, but we're still living with some previous rules where a few suspensions usually for very short periods of time take place."

While South Korea is an important market, our largest trading partner is the US and it's important to keep a close eye on what's happening to the South.

There has been some discussion occurring around M-COOL (Mandatory Country of Labeling).

"We've seen very strong statements, including this past week from the Secretary of Agriculture, that whatever they're going to do, is going to be WTO compliant," Laycraft said. "Of course, we won the WTO case, we still have right to retaliate if they did bring back Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling in a way that discriminates against our live cattle and hog exports. At this stage, we're still continuing to hear quite clearly from the administration that whatever they do, is going to comply with the WTO. So it's one of those things that's going to raise its ugly head from time to time, but we're working with our allies to try and remain on top of it and head it off at every pass."

Something that happened this week was the US announcing new rules around a lack of meaningful competition in the meat sector.

The move was based on a recent White House analysis that found the four top meatpackers (Tyson, Cargill, JBS and National Beef Packing) control between 55 and 85 per cent of the market in the cattle, hog and chicken sectors.

He says the first part is to try and encourage more medium and small scale processing throughout the United States. Then there's a much stronger enforcement commitment to take a look at if there is any practices that might fall out under their packers and stockyards act as being anti-competitive basically.

"I think it's going to be wait and see how that actually moves forward. I mean, encouraging more plant capacity is always a good thing. You know, I think the other side of what we're hearing south of the border is labor remains a big problem down there, and it's been a challenge. So it's kind of hard to increase the existing capacity when your short of workers. So I don't think there's one silver bullet or one solution around this, but whatever increases competition in the US is also good for Canada."

He notes we're actually more concentrated. We only have two of the big four in Canada, but because we have the Canada-US-Mexico Agreement, we have the other plants always bidding regularly on
our cattle when they're up for sale.

According to Laycraft it's more of an integrated North American market and we're not going to see our market operate independently of the US.

"We continue to look at what can we do to make our processing industry at all scales, more competitive up here. Address any of the cross border issues that affect our ability to move cattle south. You know at every particular part of this we're looking at, how do we create the best conditions for competition in in our industry, and that includes in the processing industry as well. So we're watching it very closely and seeing what we can learn from it."

He says on the positive side we continue to see remarkable demand for our product.