Last week I took part in a webinar hosted by EDC called CETA: Your Introduction to 500 Million EU Consumers. You can view it on-demand to learn more about where we stand after year one of the new free trade agreement. You’ll also hear other panelists weigh in, including: Dr. Ailish Campbell, Assistant Deputy Minister of International Business Development and the Chief Trade Commissioner at Global Affairs Canada; Adi Gullia, Founder & CEO of Grace & Stella; Luisa Rebolledo, the Chief Representative of Europe for EDC, who is posted in Düsseldorf; and Andrea Gardella, a Senior Economist at EDC.

Agriculture by the numbers

As the Principal Agricultural Economist at Farm Credit Canada, I’m always surprised that most Canadians are unaware of the important role our agriculture plays here at home, not to mention around the world. The bottom line—food is the biggest contributor to our country’s manufacturing sector. It’s one of our largest employers, fueling well over two million jobs, and accounting for 7 % of our GDP. Canada is the fifth largest agricultural exporter and the eleventh largest provider of agri-food globally.

The numbers are impressive, but here’s a few reality checks. Canada’s agriculture sector also ranks behind Holland (which is far smaller) and Brazil (which is less economically advanced). The unfortunate truth is, few of our food companies achieve world scale, and only half of our agricultural production is processed here. Clearly, it’s time to get growing!

The Barton Report

The chief finding of the Advisory Council on Economic Growth (commonly referred to as the Barton Report) is the recommendation that Canada adopt a new sector approach to economic growth. In their words: “certain sectors of the economy have significant untapped potential that will require focus and attention to unlock.” Based on the Council’s key criteria, agri-food tops the list as a sector with high-growth capabilities, and even higher hopes. Specifically, the Report suggests that Canada has the potential to move from fifth to second place in terms of agricultural commodities, and from eleventh to fifth place for agri-food. And they’ve earmarked 2025 as the year by which agriculture exports should rise from 55 $ billion to 75 $ billion.

Now what?

Ambitious goals, to be sure, but how are we going to get from here to there? And let’s not forget that CETA also opens the doors the other way around: European producers now have better access to our own domestic market. We’re going to need to deploy a whole-of-government approach to policy making, but it’s our farmers and food producers that are going to be doing the heavy lifting. We have a lot of things going for us already. Our agri-food commodities and processed goods are trusted the world over in terms of food safety: go Brand Canada! With CETA in place, many agriculture tariffs have either been lifted altogether or substantially reduced. As my fellow panelist from EDC’s European representation pointed out, in the 10 or so months post-CETA, we’ve seen impressive export growth in agri-food products such as cranberries and maple syrup, thanks to the elimination of previously high tariffs. But while the EU is Canada’s fourth largest export market, we only account for 2 % of their agri-food imports. That means there’s a huge opportunity for export growth.

The important thing to remember is that farmers and producers aren’t in this alone. Canada already has a substantial network of partners ready to assist the agri-food community in all ways necessary to help meet the lofty goals stated earlier. This partnership works throughout Canada, we have boots on the ground across Europe, and we’re in every promising market around the world…and we’re here to help you every step of the way.

Your first call: Farm Credit Canada

We’re the leading agriculture lender in Canada, but we do a whole lot more than simply provide financing services to primary producers, agri-food operations, and agribusinesses. We also share business management knowledge, training and tools, as well as insurance, venture capital, and critical reports on the agricultural sector. If you want to find out which agri commodities and manufactured foodstuffs are growing the fastest, and which markets are most promising, read our Trade Ranking Report on Agriculture and Trade Ranking Report on Manufactured Food.

Your second call: Trade Commissioner Service of Canada

If you’re considering exporting to the EU or elsewhere, start by contacting a Trade Commissioner in the Canadian regional office nearest you. They’ll help you identify which markets are best for you, and then most importantly, help you get ready to export. Once you’re at that stage, they’ll introduce you to on-the-ground Trade Commissioners in your export markets of interest, who will in turn introduce you to local, pre-qualified contacts—everyone you’ll need on your team to do business overseas, from sales agents and distributors to potential customers.

Your third call: Export Development Canada

EDC can help take the worry out of doing business in international markets by providing credit insurance—to ensure you get paid for that new export deal—and other risk management solutions. They can also help you get additional working capital, which is critical if you want to ramp up to fill those new orders. What’s more, they have deep, financial relationships with leading international companies who are buying what Canada is selling. EDC takes the time to learn about these buyers’ needs, their supply chains, and where the holes are—then they introduce qualified Canadian companies who can meet their procurement needs.

Some practical advice from a Canadian exporter

You may wonder what a personal care company has in common with an agri producer, but when it comes to entrepreneurship and exporting, successful companies tend to share one thing in common: they go for it. Sure, they do their homework, they get advice, and they line up partners. But at the end of the day, they have what it takes to call the play, jump in, and give it a go. My fellow panelist from Grace & Stella shared that his entry into the EU was quite by chance. But oh, what a chance! After just one year in Europe, they’ve doubled their sales. And while that might not be every exporter’s experience, Adi’s reflections ring true on so many levels. It’s not that it’s harder doing business in Europe, it’s just that it’s different. Is it worth the effort? Absolutely.

In the words of Canada’s Chief Trade Commissioner: What’s holding you back? We’re waiting for your call.