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Sirski promotes soybeans on Chinese mission


Local producer Ernie Sirski had the unique opportunity to promote soybeans in China and Vietnam.
As chair of Soy Canada, Sirski was part of a six-day trade mission.
“I arrived in Shanghai in November, the 7th. The first part of my tour was actually a trade mission with Laurence McCauley, the federal Minister of Agriculture,” he explained.
In Shanghai, the delegation attended the first-ever China International Import Exposition, Sirski said, noting the expo hosted representation from 151 countries and regions, with 3,617 companies and 400,000 buyers, plus one million visitors over the six days.
“We had a Canadian pavilion set up and it showcased various products from throughout Canada,” he said, adding the main Canadian products highlighted along with grains and oilseeds were seafood and honey.
The expo was massive Sirski said, comprised of eight buildings, with visitors walking shoulder to shoulder.
Soy Canada represents seed developers, farmers, exporters and crushers in Canada, he said, and is throughout Canada, but the bulk of its representation is in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta and Quebec with Ontario the largest producer of soybeans.
Producers are represented through the various producer groups in Canada which in Manitoba is Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers.
In representing Soy Canada, as well as Manitoba Pulse and Soy beans, Sirski explained he was not selling Canadian soy beans, he was promoting them.
“I did talk to some people and try to advertise Canadian soybeans and the fact that we were a reliable supplier and all those things. There was interest there, in the sense that the China U.S. (United States) trade war was already going on. So there was interest in it,” he added.
After the expo, Sirski flew to Beijing, Nov. 13, to meet with the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.
“And again had some good discussion with some Chinese importers regarding the quality of our product, reliability of supply,” he said, noting there was a lot of interest, due to the recent trade war.
The Chinese raised concern with the level of protein in Canadian soybeans, Sirski said, pointing out U.S. protein levels in soybeans are dropping.
“But all in all, a good discussion with some Chinese importers regarding Canadian soybeans,” he noted.
The delegation received a good overview of the Chinese economy at the Canadian Embassy, Sirski said, including the fact China had almost 70 cities larger than Toronto, which makes up about 3.5 million people.
“They gave us a good overview of all of the market, what they were looking for. And I do remember that there are 430 million middle class people in China. A great number of which are looking to become Westernized,” he said, explaining the population wants food products that are convenient.
“They want it to be quick, they want quality and they want it now. “
Sirski toured a couple of supermarkets, one of which belongs to the company Hemas, which is owned by Alibaba, known as a Chinese version of Amazon.
“So we toured one of their stores and there was everything under the sun in there. Everything from lobster to tofu, from imported Australian beef to Russian caviar and everything in between. And there was hardly anybody in the store,” Sirski noted.
It was explained the bulk of the business is home delivery within a three-km radius.
Consumers have a phone app for ordering and paying for items, which are delivered within 30 minutes.
Sirski completed his trade mission in Vietnam, meeting with about eight importers of food grade Canadian soybeans.
He explained food grade soybeans generally refers to a non GMO product, from Ontario and Quebec, as Manitoba does not grow them.
“Vietnam is our fourth largest importer of Canadian food grade soybeans and our 10th largest importer of Canadian soybeans in general, even though they do not purchase any feed grain or GM soybeans,” Sirski said, adding discussions included quality and price, as Canada had the best quality, but it was also the most expensive product.
“They wanted to continue doing business with us, because it was product that they used and they were quite happy with what they were getting.”
As of Jan. 1, he said, Vietnam will have a zero tolerance for Creeping Thistle in all imported products, including wheat, soybeans and a variety of bulk commodity products.
That is a concern, Sirski noted, as Creeping Thistle is fairly common in Canada and Vietnam has stated it will reject shipments.
Canada is in active negotiations with the country, to try to resolve the situation, he added, as it concerns all commodities going to Vietnam.
China produces a lot of soybeans, Sirski said, but its imports are between 95 and 100 million tonnes a year, making them the world’s largest importer of soybeans.
The U.S. used to be one of China’s main suppliers, he noted, until the recent trade war.
“And then they went to Brazil Argentina and Canada, although Canada was exporting some soy beans, even in 2017,” Sirski said, estimating China is taking approximately half of Canada’s exports, which was about two million tonnes in 2017.
Sirski would consider the tour a success, but pointed out trade missions often take years to realize the fruit of the mission.
Getting to know the Chinese Minister of Agriculture is important for any farm organization, he said, adding the success was in meeting various people and letting them know Canada is interested in China’s business.
“That’s the first thing. The second thing is showing and having concern over what their concerns are,” Sirski said.
“And putting a face to an organization which represents this commodity is important to them.”
Sirski returned to Manitoba Dec. 4, as he and his wife Jan, plus two daughters Rachel and Alyssa took a personal tour after the mission.
Along with the expected sites, such as the Great Wall and Terracotta Army, the Sirski family toured the countryside.
“And we were able to talk to the people that farm, people that run greenhouses. Actually talk to the people that were involved in agriculture,” he said, adding the information learned was subject to interpretation, as it was through a tour guide rather than an interpreter.
Sirski estimated he logged about 5,500 km in 16 days, not including travel in cabs, cars or buses.

M. A. Nyquist