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Gerry Ritz leads delegation to China with aim to boost agriculture exports

OTTAWA - Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz is hoping some face time with Chinese officials will help boost Canadian agriculture exports to that burgeoning market.

Ritz is to lead a delegation of more than 30 agricultural groups and officials from four provinces to China next week. They'll be talking about expanding trade access and boosting Canadian agricultural products.

China accounted for more than $5.6 billion in Canadian agri-food and seafood exports in 2013, but Ritz says there's more work to do.

"Oh, quite a bit more," he said.

"I mean that still only represents five per cent of China's imports, so we know that we can double or triple that number, which certainly would be good for Canadian producers and processors."

Ritz points out that canola sales, including both seed and oil, reached $2.7 billion in 2013.

The minister also hopes to soon see meat shipments expanded. Currently, only boneless beef from animals under 30 months is allowed.

"We hope to expand that in a staged way, as we did through Hong Kong, to get the bone-in under 30 months in the next short while. So that's what we'll be putting pressure on moving forward there."

That breakthrough is needed to send a signal to producers and others, he said.

"As we see country-of-origin (labelling) being promoted and carried on by the U.S. administration, it's incumbent on the federal government and our livestock sector to look for other markets that actually help keep the Americans honest."

U.S. rules on country-of-origin labels, introduced in 2002 and enforced since 2008, are blamed for reducing Canadian cross-border meat exports by half.

Some U.S. companies have said they can't afford to sort, label and store meat from Canada differently than meat from domestic animals. Industry groups argue the information is of no real value to the consumer. Opponents also say the rules violate free-trade agreements.

Ritz is also to deliver a keynote address to delegates of the World Meat Congress in Beijing.

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