Possibility of soybeans, pork and peas facing delays getting to China 'very concerning,' says Sask. premier

Saskatchewan pork and pea producers are having mixed reactions to reports that exports of their products are facing unusual obstacles when they hit Chinese ports.

Premier Scott Moe says he is not willing to give credence to anything beyond canola bans

Last year, China stepped in to fill a void in the market left by tariffs in India to buy peas from Canada, but confidence in those strong sales is wavering as Canadian traders report China cracking down with strict inspections of incoming peas. (Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan)

Saskatchewan pork and pea producers are having mixed reactions to reports that exports of their products are facing unusual obstacles when they hit Chinese ports.

Inspection delays and very strict scrutiny of both pea and soybean crops have been reported by traders. Ottawa warned last week that China was holding up pork shipments over paperwork issues.

In the midst of a diplomatic dispute with Canada, at least one Canadian trader says Chinese importers are facing pressure to steer clear of Canada, and that the pressure goes beyond China's well-publicized blocks of Canadian canola.

Premier Scott Moe says he is not willing to give credence to anything beyond the canola bans.

“The tensions are high and the stakes are high," Premier Scott Moe said on Monday. (CBC News)

"It's important for us to deal with facts and not hearsay as we move through this relationship, not only in our nation, but our international relationship with our trade partners as well. And we're seeking clarification with respect to peas and soybeans and pork," he told reporters at the legislature on Monday.

Moe says the province worked hard to diversify its exports to China, partly as a result of tariffs other countries have placed on Saskatchewan agriculture. This includes durum wheat tariffs in Italy and pulse and pea tariffs in India. The existing limitations are already great, he says.

"If you start to add other products [beyond canola] into the nation of China, the challenge becomes very, very, very concerning for the province," Moe says.

'This is now political'

Moe's concerns are shared by Gerrid Gust, who just started seeding peas on his Davidson-area farm and will get canola in the ground within the next few weeks.

Gust says he's been following stories about the Canadian arrest of an executive of Chinese telecom company Huawei. China has previously used non-tariff barriers during diplomatic tensions, most recently against Australian coal.

"I have every confidence in the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Canadian Grain Commission that we are selling exactly what we agreed to sell. And this is now political," Gust says.

With the India and Italy issues, and now China, it seems Saskatchewan farmers have to consider political factors when planning their crop rotations rather than just the traditional factors of production levels and supply and demand, Gust says.

"There's so many things that you worry about, with nature, water, pests, disease and pestilence that you have to worry about and manage — these things that you can control a little bit. And then you get political interference as well," he says.

Reports of shipment delays of pork from Canada to China don't concern Mark Ferguson, manager of industry and policy analysis with Sask Pork.

The big factor there is that African swine fever has been sweeping through China. It has reduced pig breeding significantly, and that has upped demand and prices for the 1.8 million market hogs that Saskatchewan produces each year.

Ferguson says the hog industry is looking pretty good right now.

As Moe holds off on accepting that pea crops are being threatened with non-tariff barriers, Gust says he's considering it. The margins are tight, and everything he puts in the ground needs to make money, he says.

"The uncertainty is being priced into peas, so there's a decrease over what you would normally get," Gust says.

But he says he is not going to feel an urgency until August, and hopes things are resolved by then.

'We need to be reciprocal in our scrutiny'

Both Gust and Moe agree that the trade relationship is an important one.

But with boats full of Saskatchewan canola being held up as they wait to unload in Chinese ports, Moe says, "We need to be reciprocal in our scrutiny of imports coming from that nation."

"I think it's time for all of us to have a serious discussion about how we are able to capture a very valuable trading partner's attention."

He would not indicate what kind of products from China he was referring to, but Moe says he has a conversation with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau planned for Tuesday and they will discuss options at that time.

Saskatchewan also wants to offer any support it can to Ottawa's plan to send a delegation to China to smooth things over, Moe says.

with files from Thomson Reuters and Adam Hunter