Still more rain. So, I'll sit here and type and watch the lightning do
battle with my walnut trees...
Your writings about the Canadian "queen and package" issue were
pointed out by a guy who shares my concern about the risks posed to
worldwide agriculture posed by the current set of WTO/SPS "rules".
I agree with your general position, but I don't think anyone in Canada
really "gets it" yet.
Here's a shocker - I've done my homework, and I don't think that
anyone in Canada has said a single thing that proves they know how to
"protect" Canadian apiaries. I would not want to see a single queen
exported from the US to Canada until Canada and the US agree on a
The big tip-off is that Canadian discussions have yet to include the
phrase "checks and balances". This alone implies that all discussion to
date should be scrapped as "uninformed", and everyone needs to go find
out about the WTO agreements Canada signed before they start over again.
Canada would be foolish to import bees from anywhere (USA included)
under the "exporter certification" scheme everyone keeps assuming to be
the default mechanism. Canada's own experience with varroa in packages
from NZ proves this. While an additional introduction of varroa was not
likely viewed as a big deal, what if it had been Tropilaelaps instead?
How long can Canada keep rolling those dice without losing? While we are
at it, just who has the right to roll such dice for everyone?
Maybe some of this will help you to develop a better presentation to
the various bee organizations in Canada. Maybe not.
1) The WTO and NAFTA Agreements Make Imports Inevitable
Both Canada and the USA signed the WTO and NAFTA agreements. This
means that "protectionist" arguments are futile, and do nothing but
discredit those who make them as irrational. Our nations must live up to
their commitments to other nations. (I'm going to mostly ignore "NAFTA"
and focus on "WTO" just to simplify.)
Under the WTO agreements, the only way one can block imports is due a
very short list of specific diseases and pests. The lists are kept by the
OIE. The disease or pest must be (somehow) proven to exist in the
prospective exporter country, and (again, somehow) proven to not exist in
the prospective receiving county.
Never mind that the task is nearly impossible and inherently
incomplete, them's the rules of the game.
Given that bee pests and diseases have a habit of being both
unforeseen and spread by unforeseen means (via countries thought to be
free of the pest/disease, by smuggling, by surprise arrival of infested
bees with other cargos, or by the rare case of the surprise arrival of
the pest/disease via a vector other than live bees), it follows that it
may be only a matter of time until nearly everyone everywhere has every
common pest and disease.
Unless, of course, port-of-entry inspections are used, at least on a
"statistical sample" basis.
If you think about it long enough, world trade would be "easier" if
everyone had all possible pests and diseases, so one wonders just how
cynical the phrase "acceptable risk" is when it is made by anyone
associated with the WTO. No wonder they default to "certification" as the
presumed mechanism to control pests and diseases.
Canada is lucky enough to have a few isolated areas that could "stay
lucky" for a long time, but this won't help Canada block imports unless
Canada is willing to follow WTO rules and impose strict quarantines to
protect disease/pest free areas from domestic infestation. This may seem
draconian, and it is. The WTO rules were set up to increase trade, not to
protect against exotic invasive species and diseases. The rules force a
country to beat its own producers with the same stick it uses on any
other country's producers.
2) Like It Or Not, Specific Rules Apply To Canada.
It should be clear to all that Canada has run out of reasonable
excuses for prohibiting imports of US queens and packages. While
beekeepers may concede the difference between "varroa", "varroa resistant
to Apistan", and "varroa resistant to coumaphos", the OIE does not
recognize anything other than "varroa". Either a country "has a pest" or
"does not", and there is no middle ground that would not require the
pyrrhic victory of a self-imposed internal quarantine between areas in
Canada. If Canada wants the OIE to define "resistant varroa" as a new
type of pest, they should start lobbying the OIE, but until then,
Canada's ban is a "non-tariff barrier to trade", subject to WTO fines and
Even when a prospective exporting country "has" a pest or disease,
individual exporters can "certify" that they are far away from any known
incidence of the pest or disease, and continue to export. This clearly
applies to New Zealand for varroa, and also applies to the US for AHB and
For Canada to continue its current inconsistent stance is to risk a
random US bee breeder filing a compliant that would lead to the WTO
forcing Canada to accept US bees on the WTO's terms. Canada can do better
than that. It appears that Canada has the time to do better, mostly
because bees are never going to be a "major issue" as compared to other
import/export items, and dollar-volume appears to be dictating which
exports get the most attention from the WTO and the exporting nations.
Even worse, under NAFTA "Chapter 11", an individual exporter can
recover all the revenue he MIGHT have earned if not for the protectionist
barrier. Companies in both Canada and the US have cashed in on this
several times, so no one has a "moral high ground" on this slimy tactic.
Its extortion. Its the rules of the game.
The WTO deck is stacked in favor of the profits of a tiny number of
exporting firms, and entire nations are forced to their knees at the
altar of commerce. This reality renders many of the points under debate
in Canada moot. Wake up and smell the (imported) coffee.
3) Canada CREATED the Planet-Wide Queen/Package Business
Yes, let's "blame Canada" for the whole mess. Its all your fault! :)
When Canada banned US bees, Canada became the "market" that turned New
Zealand and Australia into exporters of significant numbers of live bees.
Without the ban, shipping charges alone would have priced bees from the
other side of the planet out of competition, and there would never have
been much of an "export business" for live bees across oceans.
Gee thanks! :)
Once Canada found out that bees from New Zealand and Australia ranged
from mediocre to terrible, export sales to Canada dropped off, and the
dozen or so bee breeder/exporters whined to their governments that
something needed to be done. Both countries tasked their representatives
to the US with forcing the US to open its borders to their bees, since
they logically saw the US as the second biggest market for large
shipments of bees. As luck would have it, the representatives of these
two exporters were perhaps the rudest and least professional of anyone in
the entire "World Trade" game, and have played their cards very poorly.
Worse yet, each country has been forced to admit that they failed to
detect invasions of large and obvious external pests (varroa in NZ, and
SHB in Oz) for several years while they were trumpeting their "disease
free" status as if it somehow implied "better" bees.
Now we have Argentina requesting US "market access" too. Laughable,
but expensive. US tax dollars must be spent to slog through the process.
While we would rather have the limited budgets available spent to reduce
the risk of overt terrorism, we are forced to allocate resources to
thinking about exported Argentinean bees.
4) The WTO "Assumes" Exporter Certification, But Allows Port-Of-Entry
The WTO processes were simply not designed to address the special case
of shipments of live animals. They were thinking of "commodities" and
"goods". Live animals don't fit well into the process. Bees clearly
cannot be "fumigated" like grain, and bees are unique for being nearly
impossible to inspect or "certify" on an animal-by-animal basis like cows
If one assumes that New Zealand has the "best" biosecurity plans on
the planet (and they do at least have lots of pretty paper and web pages
with well-thought out plans), New Zealand's recent experience proves the
a) Anyone who claims that they don't have a pest/disease is guessing.
b) Guesses, by definition, must be assumed to be wrong.
c) "Exporter Certification" is thereby a useless biosecurity tool.
The UK realized this long before anyone else, and quietly implemented
an inspection protocol. This protocol is tolerated by both NZ and Oz, and
has proven to protect both exporters against claims that their exports
were the source of specific pest and disease problems found after
The "UK model" is the best starting point we have. It may not be
perfect, but it is far better than other options, and is an off-the-shelf
solution that has an excellent track record. We might do better, but we
stand a serious risk of doing worse unless we at least look at their
5) Operate Independently of Trust
Canadian opponents of imported bees have every right to fear the
spread of diseases and pests. They also have every right to not trust the
US to export bees that would be 100% pest-free and disease-free. No one
can be trusted to do so, since everyone lacks perfect knowledge, no one
has perfect processes, and the unexpected has a habit of being the rule
when in comes to bees.
While it is impossible to "stop imports", it is clearly possible to
reject individual shipments that fail inspections. This should be all the
clue anyone needs.
6) Don't Expect Continued Favors
Canada somehow assumes that they are entitled to free access to the
intellectual property of the USA in the form of bee "germplasm" and
"breeder queens" of specific stocks that appear to have promise. This is
pure fantasy. Canada banned US bees. Why should exceptions be made?
Note that the WTO rules do not distinguish between live animals and
"germplasm", so this is not only "fair", it has substantial precedent.
It is clearly not in the best interest of the USA to give away what
appears to be a "tangible technological advantage" when commercial sales
of production queens and packages are banned by Canada. Expect the USA to
tighten up on this, and expect the USA to continue to lead the planet in
such technology. Universities have discovered that private/public
partnerships are excellent cash cows, and the federal government can now
grant exclusive licenses to market the work-product resulting from
federal research. Supporting "the free flow of scientific information"
does not imply that anyone is obligated to provide Canada with more than
reprints of papers.
Expect specific administrative regulations that FULLY comply with both
the spirit and letter of the Canadian bee import ban, and clearly define
all queens, germplasm, and live bees as "banned items".
The result will soon be that the only way Canada is going to get the
newer desirable bee traits is to first allow them to be sold direct to
the beekeeper in the form of queens and packages. No one would have a
problem providing Canadian breeders with breeder queens and other
"advanced technology" if retail sales of production queens were also
allowed, but the term "self sufficient" is laughable when Canada
contributes nothing to US research budgets, provides no revenue to those
who both pay taxes and contribute money to research funds, but still has
its hand out, expecting the largess of the end products of US research.
If nothing else, this alone should motivate Canadians to stop their
internal bickering, and start negotiating specific port-of-entry
This is not "mean", it is merely "leverage". It is for Canada's own
7) Bees On Comb Are A Non-Issue
I assumed that the concern voiced about truckloads of hives crossing
into Canada were a strawman argument, but the issue keeps popping up. It
should be obvious that Canada can allow imports of queens only, queens
and packages, whatever. But nothing more.
If Canada wants to allow migratory beekeeper movement, this would have
nothing to do with queens and/or packages. In my view, it could never be
practical now that diseases and pests are a consideration.
8) Unrestricted Imports Are A Non-Issue
Why anyone wasted the time and money on a "study" of "unrestricted
imports" is beyond me. From here, it looks like a purely political move
by a faction trying to create a "FUD Factor" (Fear, Uncertainty and
No one in their right mind would even consider a return to
unrestricted imports. "Open borders" are a quaint but obsolete relic of
the 20th Century. Only a fool would agree to export bees over an "open
border", since a lack of checks and balances would expose the exporter to
civil liability in the event that some pest or disease outbreak was
blamed on his shipment.
Its a shame that the effort was not put to something more productive,
like requesting photocopies of the UK regulations for bee imports. (I
requested copies, and a complete package was sent in less than a week.)
9) A National Consensus IS Required
Last I checked, Alberta was a province, and had no ability to conduct
its own foreign policy, or sign international trade agreements.
If any province was going to try to make its own way in the world, I
would have picked Quebec. Are Albertans declaring their independence from
the rest of Canada? Led by beekeepers? Good luck.
If not, consensus-building is clearly the only option, but a "national
consensus" does not imply that all provinces have to adopt the same
controls or the same protocols. Look at California, which continues to
inspect every truck and every hive entering the state for possible
fire-ant infestation, and realize that they are ready and willing to turn
trucks around and send them home.
There's nothing wrong with Saskatchewan establishing tighter controls
and stricter protocols than Alberta. If they want, they can construct a
set of protocols so strict that imports are simply impractical. They
clearly can declare themselves "disease free" on several OIE pests and
diseases, so strict controls would be appropriate.
But they have to be educated until they realize that "just say no"
won't fly any more. Not anywhere. Not even in Saskatchewan.
10) Smuggling Is The Sincerest Form Of Flattery
While Canadian smuggling is a significant endorsement for the quality
of US bees, please rein in your rebels. The smuggling incidents only hurt
Albertan beekeepers' ability build confidence that they are willing to
comply with whatever checks and balances are negotiated.
If the US breeders who sold the bees had any brains, they would refuse
to sell large consignments of bees without verifying that they will stay
in the US, just to keep the pressure on the Canadians to come to the
table and work out a protocol. The USA is also not without sin.
But what can you expect from beekeepers except myopic short-term
self-interest that results in self-inflicted gunshot wounds? :)
11) The "Precautionary Principle" Might Kill The WTO
If the EU continues to wave around the "precautionary principle", the
WTO will likely soon become irrelevant. In that case, Canada will still
be party to NAFTA, so US/Canada trade will still be subject to "rules"
that limit protectionist activity. The good news is that Canada would not
be forced to negotiate with anyone other than NAFTA members. "NAFTA" is
slowly expanding to include the entire continent, so maybe Argentina will
soon become less laughable than they now appear.
No one ever gets what they deserve. They get what they negotiate.
Note from Allen:
Jim has done a great job of summing things up,
and covered pretty well all the bases. There are some points that
should be made, however, that might affect the conclusions reached:
Jim, being from the
South, seems to miss the fact that there are virtually no natural, feral
colonies of bees in Western Canada. The entire bee population that
survives year to year is maintained at great expense and effort by
beekeepers, largely because of the scarcity, uncertainty, and poor
quality of spring replacements, and about 20% to 25% of the Fall count
perish in winter, fouling the beehives and making unhealthy work for
beekeepers, cleaning out the dead equipment in Spring.
further 10% attrition in commercial hives is normal during the
production season, so annually, on average, about a third of Western
Canadian colonies die each year and must be replaced.
This figure fluctuates, and some beekeepers lose up to 100% some years.
Refilling empty hives from Canadian bees is possible, but expensive,
compared to using package bees. The Western Canadian season is
short; replacement tasks take bees out of production and heap extra work
on the beekeeper at a time of year when the workload is already heavy.
Even the 'self-sufficient' beekeepers that are used as poster boys for
the anti-import faction sometimes get partially or totally wiped out and
need to buy replacement stock. I've verified this.
Self-sufficiency is an illusion.
The number of
packages and replacement queens imported annually into the West, plus
the unmet demand, indicate clearly that, in effect, on average, the
entire Western Canadian population of bees is sustained by imports.
Moreover, that population is effectively replaced by imports every three
years. For the most part, and with few exceptions, bees in the
entire west of Canada are merely an extension of whatever population of
bees provides the imports, and not a separate population!
The honey industry in
Western Canada could continue profitably -- possibly more profitably
than at present -- even if every hive was killed or died every year, as
long as reasonably priced replacements were available reliably and
in abundance. In the past, when supplies of bees in Spring were
cheap and plentiful, some Canadian operations depopulated all their
hives annually, and although most beekeepers would continue to winter
bees, some in difficult wintering zones might choose that style of
operation again, if they could.
Because of these
facts, arguments that could reasonably be made for non-artificially
maintained, long lived domestic species cannot be made for honey bees in
Western Canada, and reliable supply is more important than minor bee
health risks and issues.
Another point I would
question, is the matter of national consensus. Jim makes a number
of assumptions, that do not bear out. National consensus is not
necessary for allowing a prohibition to lapse, and national action is
not necessary to impose controls and inspections in specific
jurisdictions. Have you ever tried driving into California with
fruit, or heard of the inspection ordeals beekeepers go through hauling
bees to the almonds?
Moreover, who will measure that consensus? CHC is not credible,
and CAPA have proven not to be able to see the whole picture. CFIA
is starting to see this as a hot potato. Besides, the issue
affects more than just the existing Canadian bee industry.
There are other stakeholders, including governments and districts that
would benefit from an expanded industry.
Jim assumes that
moving bees across borders is out of the question, but actually, it is
not. Migratory beekeeping will continue and grow in North America
for the same reason that Free Trade will prevail, because the known
benefits and savings outweigh the costs and the risks -- which are only
guesses at best -- almost all the time.
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