IICA, exporTT and CFIA to facilitate exporters readiness to access the sought-after Canadian agri-food market
Port of Spain, 29 September 2020 (IICA). “We import roughly three-quarters of our produce in Canada, with year-round availability of tropical fruits that we don’t produce driven by demand from Canadians who travel and discover more tropical foods’. So stated Dr. Jean Charles Le Vallée, Representative of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) in Canada, as he facilitated an introductory discussion between the IICA-TT office, exporTT and the Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) experts. Le Vallée confirmed that Canadian fresh fruit imports have continuously increased over the last two decades, with CAD$6.4 billion in fresh fruits imported in 2019. Canada’s leading source country for fruit imports continues to be the United States (US), accounting for 40% of import value, followed by Mexico with 17%, Chile with 6% and Guatemala with 5%.”
This first meeting, held virtually on 22 September and requested by exporTT’s Manager Training, Maria Padilla-Benjamin, was a first key step in its mandate to ensure that Trinidad and Tobago has a diversified and sustainable export sector. IICA-TT and exporTT have been collaborating over the last two years, to build capacity of local exporters to meet US market import requirements for fresh and processed agri-food products. According Padilla-Benjamin, a market research among T&T exporters “identified Canada as among the second top market of interest, after the US, so exporTT’s role is to transition exporters to meet Canadian market requirements for agri-food exports”. This is important, since within recent times, exporTT has not focused comprehensively on building export readiness to facilitate agri-food trade between T&T and Canada.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is the regulatory authority dedicated to safeguarding food, animals and plants in Canada. The Agency works to verify that food products imported into Canada meet Canadian requirements. Alia Blais from the CFIA’s International Affairs Branch confirmed that while Canada is an important destination market for agri-food products, it differs in some ways to other markets. For example, Canada’s maximum residue level (MRL) regulations as well as Canada’s list of allergens differ from those of other countries. Canada’s new Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR) require imported food to be prepared with the same level of food safety controls as food prepared in Canada. The regulations are built on three major elements based on prevention-focused international standards: licensing, preventive controls and traceability.
It is market specifics such as these that exporters need to know about when making decisions on investing in export readiness for markets of interest. This first IICA-CFIA-exporTT discussion set the stage for an Introductory ‘Safe Food Canada’ Webinar, later this year, to be hosted by exporTT and IICA-TT. The Webinar will clarify the import regulations for agri-food products into Canada, the role of the CFIA and requirements of importers. ExporTT will pitch the Webinar to exporters who are HACCP-certified (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) to allow them to hear first-hand from the CFIA, exactly what requirements need to be met to access the Canadian market. IICA-Canada’s Le Vallée confirmed that the very first question a Canadian importer will ask is ‘are you HACCP ready’. There is only one acceptable answer – Yes! The main message here is that ‘HACCP’ opens doors to export markets.
According to Lisa Harrynanan, IICA-TT’s AHFS specialist, “this Webinar is going to be something new, and will generate interest, not just for T&T exporters, but also several of their peers in CARICOM who have already targeted the Canadian market for both fresh and processed agri-food products''. Harrynanan confirmed that while T&T fresh produce exports to Canada are somewhat low and declined in recent years, there are a few medium-large scale food manufactures who export to Canada, guided by independent food safety experts. The National Agricultural Marketing Development Corporation (NAMDEVCO), has also been supporting export readiness of local farmers interested in exporting to Canada.
In concluding the conversation, Le Vallée and the IICA-TT Representative Diana Francis, committed to IICAs support to facilitate the CFIA-exporTT connection with a specific target to host the Webinar in early November. It is also anticipated, that sharing the information and outcomes of this Webinar with exporter in CARICOM, would enhance the regional objective of expanding agri-food trade between CARICOM and Canada.
Lisa Harrynanan, Agricultural Health and Food Safety Specialist