China says pest concerns justify ban on Canadian canola

Amid escalating trade and diplomatic tensions, China has cited fears of insect infestation for blocking some exports of canola from Canada.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency has not identified anything of concern

China, which receives about 40 per cent of Canada's canola exports, justified blocking Canadian canola by saying it has found 'dangerous pests' in the product. (Shutterstock)

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.

China acted to suspend canola imports from a Canadian company "in accordance with laws and regulations and international practice," Foreign Ministry spokesperson 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. 

One of Canada's largest grain processors, Winnipeg-based Richardson International Ltd., said Tuesday that China had revoked its permit to export canola. 

Some saw that as retaliation for Canada's arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou. 

Canada is proceeding with an extradition hearing for Meng, the daughter of Huawei's founder. She was arrested by Canada in December 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. 

Meng is due in a B.C. court Wednesday to fix a date for the extradition hearing.

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 Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, considered a dangerous separatist by Beijing. 

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

Canada's Minister of International Trade, Jim Carr, says the government is treating the story as a "scientific issue" and not one tied to diplomatic and trade negotiations.

"We want evidence that there is anything wrong with this very high grade canola that is certified to be clean," he said in an interview with CBC News on Wednesday. "So we have asked the Chinese to show evidence of any problems."

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. 

WATCH: Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland on China's action against Canadian canola

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke to reporters in Longueuil on Tuesday 1:52

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. 

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.

With files from CBC News

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