The federal ministers of international trade and agriculture toured a Maple Ridge blueberry farm on Wednesday, talking about the importance of eliminating trade barriers to the valuable export.
Ag minister Gerry Ritz (MP for Battlefords-Lloydminster) and trade minister Ed Fast (MP Abbotsford) were joined by Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission MP Randy Kamp and local politicians for the tour, and the announcement of $117,000 in federal funding to the B.C. Blueberry Council, which promotes the product. They held a press conference and luncheon under tents at Cedar Valley Farms on 136th Avenue.
The ministers spoke about new markets for frozen blueberries and other products in the European Union and South Korea. Ritz explained that tariffs will be reduced in those countries over the coming years under the new agreements.
“It’s all great news for blueberry growers here in B.C. and in Canada,” said Ritz.
Fast said the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) allows for immediate access for frozen berries, but barriers to trade will be phased out over a five-year period, before allowing full market access. South Korea has a seven year phase-in period.
Fast was also positive about a trade mission to China in June – the Chinese government agreed to expedite work that will allow for the sale of fresh Canadian blueberries there.
The Canadian blueberry industry estimates that access to the massive Chinese market would be valued at $65 million per year.
In 2013, Canada exported $163 million worth of fresh and frozen blueberries to 20 different countries. Some 92 per cent of Canada’s high bush blueberry exports came from B.C.
“We’re beating the bushes around the world for new markets,” quipped Fast.
Ritz said the message that there is clean air, land and water in Canada resonates in countries such as China, making agricultural products like B.C. blueberries attractive.
Jason Smith, the chair of the B.C. Blueberry Council and a producer in Abbotsford, said the trade work is critical to the industry.
“It’s extremely important as our acreage improves – we have to find markets for our fruit.”
B.C. had been producing about 40 million kilograms of blueberries per year, but that jumped to a record 54.5 million kg last summer, and producers are expecting a new record from the current crop, if favourable weather trends continue.
The increasing maturity and productivity of recent planted blueberry bushes is a major reason for the increases, said Smith.
The $117,000 in funding for the council is earmarked for trade shows in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.