Politics

China suspends pork imports from 2 Canadian companies, agriculture minister says

The federal agriculture minister says that department officials have told her the Chinese government has suspended the export permits of two Canadian pork exporters, both based in Quebec.

Marie-Claude Bibeau's office says suspensions are related to incorrect labelling

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau has told Reuters that two Quebec-based pork producers have had their export permits to China revoked. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

The federal agriculture minister says that department officials have told her the Chinese government has suspended the export permits of two Canadian pork exporters, both based in Quebec.

"We have to look into this," Marie-Claude Bibeau told Reuters Wednesday in an interview by phone from Ottawa. "It might be only administrative. We might be able to deal with the situation easily. I can't speculate on why the permits have been suspended."

A spokesperson with the Canadian Pork Council also said it was aware of the suspensions, and that the council was seeking clarification on the issue in order to correct it. 

"We are aware that China has suspended two plants. They are temporarily unable to ship pork into China. This appears to be linked to a paperwork issue," said Gary Stordy.

A spokesperson in Bibeau's office told CBC News that the General Administration of Customs China posted information on its website stating that China had temporarily suspended the licences of two Canadian pork producers that export to China.

Canadian pork producer Olymel LP says its plant in Red Deer, Alta., is one of two affected by the suspension. The other pork producer has yet to be identified.

Olymel spokesman Richard Vigneault told the Canadian Press the Quebec-based company is assessing the situation, but so far there is no impact on production at the plant.

Bibeau's office confirmed later Wednesday that the suspensions are related to incorrect labelling on some import certificates. Her office also said the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) was working with industry earlier this week to sort out language and format issues on some export certificates used to export meat to China.

The discrepancy would only cause minor delays for shipments that have already arrived in China.

Bibeau said she did not know when the pork permit suspensions took effect.

No WTO challenge yet on Canola

After appearing before a parliamentary committee Thursday, Bibeau told reporters she was confident the situation would be resolved soon and that she was talking to officials in the U.S. about the challenges involved in getting the labelling regime right when exporting meat to China.

"We are having discussions. No later than this week I had an opportunity to meet with the deputy undersecretary of [U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue] and this is one subject I brought to his attention," she said. "And I know that this is something our officials are talking about on a regular basis.

"It's important that we work together, that we first know what's going on with our partner, our neighbour and to share best practices and to see how we can support each other."

Ties between Canada and China turned icy last December when police in Vancouver arrested Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. warrant. Since then, China has arrested two Canadians and halted canola imports from two Canadian companies.

The pork export problems come after China blocked Canadian canola imports from Richardson International and Viterra, two of Canada's biggest canola seed exporters, claiming that shipments were contaminated with pests. Canadian politicians have insisted there is no basis for that claim.

Asked if it was time to make a formal complaint against China before the World Trade Organization, Bibeau said the government wants to try other avenues first.

"Of course it remains an option. We have different approaches we can take, different tools that we can use. But we value the work of our working group, what they will identify as the best move that we can make," she said. "But for the time being we don't believe it's the right way to go."

With files from Katie Simpson and the Canadian Press

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