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Trade deals level out international playing field for Canadian produce

Wild blueberries growing in Nova Scotia.

Tariffs can add significant expense to exports and scare away business no matter how good your product is.

That’s the lesson Leo Van Dijk learned while working on his family farm, Van Dyk Blueberries, in Nova Scotia.

“The U.S. was significantly ahead of us in getting the tariffs down, so we were out of sync with a key competitor,” says Van Dijk, speaking of customers in South Korea before the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement knocked tariffs of some 35% down to 0% in 2015.

“Timing is everything. Establishing a customer’s buying pattern is very difficult, and it’s even more difficult to get them (the customer) back once a customer is lost,” he says.

But with the new Asia-Pacific region trade deal that entered into force at the end of 2018, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), Canada now has 14 trade agreements that cover 51 countries and provide market access to nearly 1.5 billion consumers.

Van Dijk is looking forward to Canada’s augmented ability to compete internationally.

“We are truly hopeful. It’s too early to say we have seen significant benefit from the CPTPP, but we are truly hopeful. We started with a domestic focus, but could not sustain ourselves without going across borders. We work closely with the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service and they offer strong partnerships and assistance.”

Van Dijk says Canada’s continued focus on addressing trade barriers around the world is an essential part of his company’s plan to bringing Nova Scotia’s blueberry goodness to the world.

“My parents’ message was always, ‘If you’re good to the soil and the planet, it will be good right back to you. If you’re good to one another in family and community, they will also be good right back to you.’”

The Van Dijks raised their nine children with this principle and it remains part of their farming ethos to this day. Cornelius “Casey” Van Dijk and his wife, Henrica, originally from Utrecht province in The Netherlands, were sponsored as immigrants by a parish priest in the early 1950s and settled in Caledonia, Nova Scotia.

Van Dijk says the family enterprise has combined old-fashioned simplicity with a forward-thinking view of the world, and this has caught on in Asian markets.

“The business started as a traditional farm and my parents discovered the great potential of wild blueberries. So 15 years ago, we founded the juice company, and now we have significant exports to China, South Korea and the European Union.”

Van Dijk says the antioxidant properties of blueberries are a strong selling point.

“The Asian market is more advanced in seeing food as medicine and medicine as food, and sourcing health from what we eat and drink. So our blueberry juice is marketed as a health supplement.”

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