China says it blocked canola shipments from Winnipeg over fear of ‘harmful organisms’

WATCH ABOVE: China’s cancellation of imports on Canadian canola making waves

China is blocking some imports of the agricultural product canola from Canada due to fears of insect infestation, the foreign ministry said Wednesday.

The move comes amid a conflict between the countries over Canada’s arrest of a Chinese technology company executive and is seen by some as a new tactic to achieve leverage over Ottawa.

READ MORE: China cancels major canola shipments from Winnipeg company amid rising tensions

China acted to suspend canola imports from a Canadian company “in accordance with laws and regulations and international practice,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a daily news briefing.

Lu cited “harmful organisms” he did not further identify as a threat. He said China’s government “needs to protect the health and safety of its own people.”

“I can tell you responsibly that the Chinese government’s decision is definitely well-founded. Upon verification, China customs has recently detected dangerous pests in canola imported from Canada many times,” Lu said.

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WATCH: ‘Rough patch’ in relationship with China, Carr says

‘Rough patch’ in relationship with China: Carr
‘Rough patch’ in relationship with China: Carr

One of Canada’s largest grain processors, Richardson International Ltd., said Tuesday that China had revoked its permit to export canola there.

The Alberta government said Richardson International Ltd. exports 30 per cent of Alberta canola.

“Today, we learned that the Chinese government is barring a huge chunk of our canola shipments from entering their country,” Premier Rachel Notley said. “This is wrong and it’s unfair.”

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She said 70 per cent of agri-food exports to China from Alberta are canola-related products and that canola farming contributes billions to the Canadian economy.

LISTEN: Brian Innes of the Canola Council of Canada and Rod Nickel of Reuters News joins Danielle Smith to discuss China’s halted imports of Canadian canola

“I’m calling on the prime minister to get back on the job and fight for our canola farmers and the jobs they support,” Notley said. “Alberta farmers and Alberta workers stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars and up to 3,000 jobs if this is not resolved.”

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Some saw that as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a top executive for the Chinese tech giant Huawei.

Canada is proceeding with an extradition hearing for Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who is the daughter of Huawei’s founder. She was arrested by Canada at the request of the U.S., where she is wanted on fraud charges for allegedly misleading banks about the company’s dealings with Iran.

READ MORE: Chinese media accuses detained Canadians of stealing state secrets

China has a history of using trade measures to retaliate over perceived political slights. It suspended its bilateral trade deal with Norway and restricted imports of Norwegian salmon after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Chinese political prisoner Liu Xiaobo in 2010.

Britain and other countries were also retaliated against over meetings with the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, considered a dangerous separatist by Beijing.

Canadian Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said in a statement that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency conducted investigations after China issued notices of non-compliance on canola seed imports, including nine since January. She said the agency had not identified any pests or bacteria of concern.

WATCH: Canada on unstable footing with international trade partners

Canada on unstable footing with international trade partners
Canada on unstable footing with international trade partners

China receives about 40 per cent of Canada’s canola exports, and the revocation of Richardson’s permit hurts the entire value chain of industries involved in the market, the Canola Council of Canada has said.

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Ward Toma, general manager of the Alberta Canola Producers Commission, said so far, China has not “shut the border down” and the current ban only involves one company in Winnipeg.

“There are other companies that are still buying, companies that are still crushing canola in the province – that business hasn’t stopped,” Toma said.

“There might be an impact perhaps at the cash price if this wears on or gets worse. But we have no idea if that’s going to happen.”

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Canola prices already have been hit by China’s retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agricultural exports. Further cutbacks on Chinese buying would deal a major blow to what is a lifeline for agriculture in western Canada.

“We are working very, very hard with the Chinese government on this issue,” Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Tuesday.

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China has warned of serious consequences if the Huawei executive is not released. China arrested two Canadians on Dec. 10 in what was widely seen as an attempt to pressure Canada.

After Meng’s arrest, a Chinese court also sentenced a Canadian to death in a sudden retrial, overturning a 15-year prison term handed down earlier.

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WATCH: Freeland grew up on canola farm, says Chinese controversy ‘utmost priority’

Freeland grew up on canola farm, says Chinese controversy ‘utmost priority’
Freeland grew up on canola farm, says Chinese controversy ‘utmost priority’

— With files from Global News

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