Nova Scotia

Chinese tabloid blasts Canada over lobster dispute

Communist Party media in China rebuked and threatened Nova Scotia lobster shippers this week for expressing concerns over new roadblocks to getting products into China.

Border measures about food safety, 'rather than an excuse to target any specific country,' Global Times says

This image appeared in Chinese state media on Tuesday in an article about a lobster trade dispute between Canada and China. (Tang Tengfei/GT/

Communist Party media in China rebuked and threatened Nova Scotia lobster shippers this week for expressing concerns over new roadblocks to getting products into China.

The party tabloid Global Times says recent border measures are about food safety after a COVID-19 outbreak was linked to a Beijing food market, "rather than an excuse to target any specific country."

"It's Canada's choice to export to China, and Canada needs to abide by Chinese regulations, which may be adjusted when necessary in accordance with the COVID-19 situation," Bai Ming, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Co-operation, told the Global Times on Monday.

The tabloid, known for its nationalist tone on international issues, discounted complaints raised by Canadian lobster shippers quoted in CBC News reporting.

It also linked the issue to the arrest in Canada and ongoing extradition proceedings against Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou.

Lobster exporters in Canada have criticized China for new COVID-19 testing policies that they say are not backed by science. (CBC)

"Experts warned that the Canadian side should be fully aware that its attitude in Meng's case is the only roadblock between the two countries," it said. "If the Canadian side does not remove it, a disruption in the lobster trade might be just the tip of the iceberg in bilateral trade, as fraught ties have already undermined confidence in business communities on both sides."

Chinese authorities began random testing of imported food after a COVID-19 outbreak earlier this month was traced to a cutting board used on imported Atlantic salmon at the Xinfadi market in Beijing.

Live lobster shipments from Canada, valued at $457 million last year, were particularly vulnerable.

Most of that lobster comes from Nova Scotia, which has seen its sales in China soar in recent years.

After the inspections started, some Nova Scotia companies cancelled live shipments rather than risk delays of up to 36 hours waiting for test results when the perishable product arrives.

Exporters must now also sign a Chinese customs declaration assuming liability if COVID-19 is detected.

Obsorne Burke of Victoria Co-op Fisheries in Cape Breton, which ships frozen lobster to China, refused to sign.

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou leaves her home for the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on May 27. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

He's leery of the Chinese legal system and dubious about the risk of the coronavirus, citing public health agencies in Canada and elsewhere that say there is no scientific evidence the virus is transmitted by food or food packaging.

"We have to take a stand or push back and say this does not make any scientific sense," he said.

The Global Times said exporters should get over it.

"The newly adopted requirements for coronavirus-free declarations apply to all suppliers across the world and all food products," it said in a front page editorial this week, one of two articles devoted to the issue of Canadian lobster shipments.

Nova Scotia Conservative MP Chris d'Entremont said the federal government should explain to industry exactly what accepting liability might mean. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

The tabloid hit back at reaction from Canadian lobster exporters quoted by CBC.

"A major Chinese salmon importer told the Global Times on Monday that all of its suppliers are co-operative and willing to sign the declaration as they 'want to do business with China,'" Global Times reported.

"The company said, compared with Canada, it prefers to do business with countries like Chile, which has a mature, industrialized industry chain and is also co-operative with and respectful of Chinese regulations."

Trudeau government avoids taking stand

The question of whether lobster shippers should sign a declaration that assumes some form of liability for COVID-19 in China has split the Nova Scotia lobster industry.

Some exporters have agreed to sign the declaration, others have not.

The Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance has lawyers from the Atlantic Canadian law firm Cox Palmer reviewing the document and drafting a declaration shippers could send to customers in China that asserts the safety of the product without assuming liability. 

The industry group says there is no consensus among members at this point for a unified response.

The Global Times article challenged those who have opted not to sign.

"Since the Canadian exporters are so confident about their management, why don't they have the courage to sign the declaration," Bai asked, noting that Canada ought to understand, "China has such a regulation only because there is a risk of the virus spreading."

The Trudeau government avoided taking a stand when asked by the Nova Scotia government whether exporters should sign the declaration.

'Absolutely not acceptable,' says MP

Global Affairs Canada said since the customs demand was delivered by Chinese companies "to the industry from industry," the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is leaving it to individual exporters to decide whether they sign.

"It's absolutely not acceptable," said Chris d'Entremont, a Nova Scotia Conservative Member of Parliament.

D'Entremont said the federal government should explain to industry exactly what accepting liability might mean.

"We should be understanding through CFIA what exactly the implications are going to be here. To accept a certain liability is one thing on your product, but a liability for the spread of a virus is something completely different. I think this is a humongous overreach by China," he said.

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a request for comment from CBC News.


Paul Withers


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.


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