With exploratory talks on a Canada-China free trade agreement scheduled to begin next week in Beijing, Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Lawrence MacAulay wants the farm-to-fork sector he oversees in government to be one of the main courses on the menu of a future bilateral trade pact.
"China wants our food and we want to sell it to them," MacAulay said here in an interview with Xinhua on Wednesday. "The Canadian agricultural sector has the capabilities and know-how to help China meet its growing demand for safe food."
"The Chinese need to know what we have, and are aware of the quality of our goods and our regulatory system. I want to make sure the Chinese people are demanding more and more products from Canada."
Canola, which was bred from rapeseed in Canada in the early 1970s, is Canada's top agricultural export to China. During Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Ottawa last September, China and Canada signed a memorandum of understanding that extends exports of canola to 2020 and provides a "science-based" approach for Canadian canola producers to address Chinese concerns on dockage.
According to Canadian government figures, canola exports to China amounted to two billion Canadian dollars in 2015, or more than one-third of 5.6 billion dollars in Canadian agri-food sold to China -- a number that MacAulay said grew up to 6.1 billion dollars last year, representing 30 percent of all Canadian exports to China.
To further increase sales to China, the minister is promoting Canadian food beyond its world-famous canola. Canada already sells beef to China, with exports totaling 255 million dollars in 2015, and that number could significantly rise following a protocol both countries signed last year to expand market access for Canadian frozen bone-in-beef.
Last November, when he led the largest-ever delegation of over 100 Canadian agricultural industry representatives on a 10-day trade mission to Beijing, Qingdao and Shanhai, MacAulay received feedback on the type of Canadian food Chinese want to eat -- and their appetite for it is quite diverse.
He said that China wants blueberries, Canada's largest fruit crop grown nationally, and that the Chinese have developed a taste for ice cream made in his home province of Prince Edward Island.
COWS Inc. opened its first ice cream shop in Beijing in 2014, and has since expanded with another store in the Chinese capital as well as outlets in other cities, including Shanghai.
COWS was among 56 Canadian companies that had deals finalized in China during Prime Minister Justin
Trudeau's first official visit to the country last year, and in partnership with Yintai Group plans to open ice cream stores in high-end Yintai shopping centers in China.
MacAulay plans to lead another agricultural delegation to China later this year.