Mexico, China make inroads in Canada

03/27/2014 11:52:00 AM
Tom Karst

 The U.S. is still the dominant supplier of fruits and vegetables to Canada, but the newest trade statistics show Mexico, China and a few other countries are growing their market share.

Government of Canada statistics show that the country’s total vegetable and tuber imports in 2013 totaled $2.8 billion ($US), up 32% from $2.13 billion in 2009.

The U.S. accounted for 65% of Canada’s vegetable and tuber imports in 2013, down from 69% in 2009.

On the other hand, Mexico’s market share of Canadian vegetable imports rose from 18% in 2009 to 23% in 2013, according to Canadian trade statistics. The total value growth in Canada’s imports of Mexican vegetables between 2009 and 2013 topped 60%.

Fresh tomatoes saw a significant decline in the U.S. share of Canada’s imports in the last five years, with an offsetting rise in Mexico’s tomato value shipped to Canada.

Canada’s total fresh tomato imports of $301.9 million were up 20%, compared with imports of $252 million in 2009.

However, the U.S. market share of Canada’s total tomato import value declined from 48% in 2009 to just 35% in 2013. On the other hand, Mexico’s market share of Canadian fresh tomato imports rose from 49% in 2009 to 64% in 2013.

While the value of Canadian imports of U.S. tomatoes dropped 14% in those five years, the value of Canadian imports of Mexican tomatoes soared 57% in the same period.

“Certainly we are seeing more tomatoes, product of Mexico, in western Canada than in the past,” said Paul Slobodzian, chief produce officer for Krown Produce Inc., Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, “So many people rely on Mexican product coming through Nogales this time of year for the ease and consistency,

“It’s a three- to four-day ride and they have their product up here,” he said.

That trend applies to field tomatoes and greenhouse tomatoes in the winter marketing window, he said.

However, local Canadian greenhouses have started to produce tomatoes in a light way by late March and Slobodzian said that Canadian greenhouse tomatoes will replace Mexican greenhouse tomatoes by May, he said. Imported field grown tomatoes also will transition from Mexico to California this spring, he said.

Canada’s currency has weakened in the last year, helping Canada’s exports but causing imports to cost more. The Canadian dollar was on par with U.S. dollar about a year ago, but now only trades at 89 cents U.S., or about 10% weaker than a year ago.

Slobodzian said the weaker Canadian currency wasn’t necessarily reducing demand for imports.

“Most of our costing is done weekly and we take the exchange rate into account,” he said.

Most imports purchased — whether from the U.S. or any other country — are based on the U.S. dollar, he said.

The weaker Canadian dollar definitely helps Canadian exporters move their produce to the U.S., said John Vanderzwaag, operations manager with Toronto, Ontario-based Groenewegen & Sons Produce Sales Ltd. “It makes it a lot easier to get orders to move potatoes and onions to the U.S. for sure,” he said.

Among other suppliers, China accounted for 4% of Canadian vegetable and tuber imports in 2013, about the same as 2009. The value of Canadian imports of Chinese vegetables surged 40% between 2009 and 2013, according to government of Canada statistics.

Dave Flynn, buyer for The Calgary, Alberta-based buyer for The Produce People Ltd., said the company handled some broccoli crowns from China about two years ago. “They made the ride pretty well, but on a day to day basis I’m not so sure I would want to do that,”he said. California broccoli can be supplied more frequently on a fresher basis. “You want good strong turns on all your vegetables or fruits but China would just be too long (in transit),” he said.

Slobodzian said there is some Chinese produce at the retail shelves, though not all retailers will stock it.

Selected smaller suppliers of vegetables and tubers to Canada that saw increases of more than 50% in import value between 2009 and 2013 were Guatemala (63%), Dominican Republic (143%), Honduras (68%), Costa Rica (71%), Australia (243%),

Canadian imports of fruits and edible nuts tallied $4.5 billion in 2013, up 43% from $3.14 billion in 2009. The U.S. market share of all fruit and edible nut imports was 50% in 2013, unchanged from 2009.

As with vegetables, Mexico increased in importance as a supplier of fruit to Canada. Mexico accounted for 11% of all Canadian fruit and nut imports in 2013, up from 9% in 2009.

Canadian imports of Mexican fruit and edible nuts rose 80% between 2009 and 2013.

Chile accounted for 4% of Canadian fruit and nut imports in 2013, the same share as in 2009, and Costa Rica’s share of 4% in 2013 was also unchanged from 2009.

The U.S. did increase its market share for fresh grapes, commanding 47% of Canada’s total imports of $439 million in 2013, up from 45% in 2009. Chile saw its share of Canada’s fresh grape purchases drop from 39% in 2009 to 37% in 2013. Mexico’s share of Canadian grape purchases dropped from 11% in 2009 to 9% in 2013. Peru increased its market share of the Canadian grape market from 1% in 2009 to 5% in 2013.



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