Manitoba premier worries China's meat import suspension could hurt largest pork producing province
Suspension follows discovery of forged health certificates in batch of pork exported to China
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says the impact of China's outright ban on the import of Canadian pork products has been on his mind, though he doesn't know if there's much provinces can do but wait for a solution to work itself out at the federal level.
"Obviously we're concerned," Pallister said Wednesday. "For us, canola, beef — these are major commodities not just for our farm families, but value-added potential in our province."
Pallister made the remarks after the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa announced it was suspending imports of Canadian meat products.
The suspension comes after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency alerted China it uncovered nearly 200 fake veterinary health certificates with a batch of pork exported to China.
That finding is being investigated by the federal government, but it's bruised an already delicate trade relationship between Canada and China following the arrest last December of a Chinese tech-giant executive.
Canada arrested Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou at the request of the U.S. Following that, China arrested two Canadians in what was perceived as retaliation.
Food prices are going to get much higher in China and I think they're going to be coming back to buy pork somewhere.- Barry Prentice, University of Manitoba
China also stopped canola imports from Canadian suppliers including Winnipeg-based Richardson International, claiming concerns of a potential pest infestation.
Last week, Chinese customs inspectors detected ractopamine, a restricted feed additive that boosts growth, in a recent shipment of Canadian pork products, and said it was mulling whether to institute an all-out ban on Canadian meat imports.
Ractopamine is permitted in Canada and the U.S. but it's banned in China, Russia and EU countries.
On the heels of the counterfeit health certificate revelation, China repeated calls Wednesday for Canada to release Wanzhou.
'This is not the canola situation': Pork Council
Manitoba is the biggest pork processor in Canada and sends about $200 million in products to China annually, said provincial Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler. The industry is a significant creator of jobs locally, he said.
Last year, canola was Manitoba's largest export to China, according to provincial government statistics. Pork was fourth, behind soybeans and wheat.
"It's a large hit for us and hopefully we get it resolved sooner than later," Eichler said. "Once the ball stops rolling you have trucks that are not running, you have feed that's not [moving]."
The Manitoba Pork Council said it believes the matter will be resolved as soon as possible, noting the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is conducting an investigation.
"The good thing is officials are all talking to each other. There is good dialogue going on," said Andrew Dickson, the general manager of the Manitoba pork industry group.
It's not the end of the world. Let's not panic.- Andrew Dickson, Manitoba Pork Council
Dickson said the meat ban is a technical issue involving a forged document, and not a political move.
"This is not the canola situation," he said. There's been widespread speculation the ban on canola imports is retaliation for the arrest of Huawei's Wanzhou.
This isn't the first time the issue of documentation for export certificates has been brought up, Dickson said.
"We've had this issue before — not necessarily with the Chinese but with other exporters and importers, where there's been some problems with the documentation of the products," he said.
"The Chinese government has indicated that the system we have in place of providing these export certificates needs to be looked at and the CFIA has agreed to do that."
Dickson added if the ban on pork continues, processing plants in Manitoba will find other markets to sell their products.
"It's not the end of the world," he said. "Let's not panic."
Long ban unlikely: prof
Canadians shouldn't be too concerned about a long ban on meat exports to China over the false health documents or traces of ractopamine, says a professor of supply chain management at the University of Manitoba's Asper School of Business.
"We have a very good reputation and part of that is we actually do follow up and inspect," Barry Prentice told CBC Information Radio host Marcy Markusa.
"Canada's system is very rigorous."
He said China has good reason to temporarily pause imports so that it can assess how serious the forgery and ractopamine problems truly are. But he said the fact that Canada was the one to report the false certificates to China in the first place could bode well.
"This was a notification that Canada gave to them, that we had these false certificates, and their action is rather logical, to say, 'Well, wait a minute — how wide is this problem?" he said.
"Countries do have an obligation to protect their population."
China produces roughly half of the world's pork, said Prentice, and about a fifth of their marketable herd has been lost to the African swine fever problem in China.
"They're looking at losing another 22 per cent by the end of the year, because this has no vaccine. There's no stopping it," he said.
"Food prices are going to get much higher in China and I think they're going to be coming back to buy pork somewhere."