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Point of View: Time to learn a lesson from Canada

Property of SeaFood Business magazine
By Eric Ackerson
April 01, 2010

President Barack Obama gave a stirring State of the Union Address in January. At one pivotal moment he addressed the issue of U.S. goods made for export, calling for increases through fair trade with our global trading partners. His call was met with spontaneous and bipartisan applause. Why such resonance on a sector that has fallen by the wayside in recent years?

For the past several decades, the United States has enjoyed unparalleled economic success. In the wake of two wars and an international banking crisis, we are now left with a budget deficit that rivals our previous success and a currency that has dropped significantly in value. With this dream of economic security lying in tatters around us, something needs to give.

Directly to our north lies Canada, one of the United States' chief allies and No. 1 energy-trading partner. Trade between the United States and Canada equals $1.5 billion per day. Although seafood represents only a small percentage of this number, it is Canada's second-largest food export, equaling $3.3 billion (CAD) annually. Approximately $2.9 billion of that enters the U.S. market.

Historically, Canada has relied on exporting goods to the United States and elsewhere. With the usual difference in value of the U.S. and Canadian dollars benefiting U.S. buyers, Canadian producers have enjoyed the benefit of buyers in America who want Canada's high-quality and low-cost goods. Today, the currency difference is negligible. The upside of this downturn is that domestic goods are more attractive on the world market.

So how do U.S. seafood producers stand to benefit? By ramping up export trade, of course. The expectation of a favorable position in previously untapped markets throughout Asia and Europe should give producers incentive to pursue lucrative export relationships.

The government could learn from the example of our northern neighbors. The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada has paved the way to increasing Canada's global exports through financial assistance. It has given marketing assistance to fishermen and farmers, including a global presence at trade shows such as the European Seafood Exposition in Brussels, Belgium, (produced by SFB parent company, Diversified Business Communications) and many others. This presence encourages producers to consider and pursue relationships overseas.

To encourage growth in exports, the government needs to lessen restrictive transportation regulations imposed on exporters since 9/11. They should increase active presence at trade events and through trade missions directly in markets where U.S. seafood demand is high, and should increase overseas marketing assistance to U.S. fishermen and fish farmers. The government should begin to take seriously the statement that "Made in America" is a positive and attractive proposition for global buyers.

In terms of annual seafood exports, the United States, at around $3.9 billion, ranks higher. However, Canada is a nation of only 33 million people, about one-tenth the size of the United States. This disparity shows the importance to, and relative success of, Canada's government in encouraging seafood exports. With conditions favorable for U.S. producers to begin increasing exports, it would serve both the industry and government to take a marketing lesson from our neighbors.

 

Eric Ackerson is a marketing specialist for both U.S. and Canadian seafood producers. His interaction with the Canadian and U.S. trade commissions has helped shape his marketing strategies with producers. Follow him at www.twitter.com/cfoodjunky

 

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