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The licences for Regina-based Viterra and Winnipeg-based Richardson International to sell to China remain suspended, the president of the Canola Council of Canada says.

Todd Korol/Reuters

The Canadian canola industry says there’s been no improvement to impediments blocking exports of canola seed to China despite a media report suggesting Beijing had cleared obstacles to trade.

Jim Everson, president of the Canola Council of Canada, which represents 43,000 producers, said the companies that were previously Canada’s two major exporters of canola seed to China are still prevented from shipping there.

The licences for Regina-based Viterra and Winnipeg-based Richardson International to sell to China remain suspended, Mr. Everson said.

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Canola seed exports to China remain at about 30 per cent of the volume that used to ship before restrictions took effect in March, 2019.

Reuters News Agency reported this week that China agreed to allow imports of Canadian canola to resume after talks between the two countries.

Mr. Everson, however, said these discussions did not alter the current state of trade.

He said Canadian and Chinese government officials held a conference call to discuss the trade in canola seed on March 30, and during this call China informed Canada that the current trade in canola seed can continue even though a memorandum of understanding between the two countries to work on mitigating the risk of blackleg disease to the crop expired. But these talks did not result in a reactivation of licences for Viterra or Richardson.

In a statement Tuesday, Agriculture and Agri-food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said "regaining full market access for Canadian canola seed remains our priority, and we continue to engage Chinese officials.”

The pain has been mounting for canola growers for more than a year, following China’s decision to stop buying certain agricultural exports from Canada in the wake of Ottawa’s arrest of a top Chinese tech executive.

Relations between Beijing and Ottawa turned sour in late 2019 at a time when Canadian farmers were already struggling with the turmoil in agricultural markets caused by the mid-2018 trade war between the United States and China. The catalyst was Canada’s detention of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.'s chief financial officer last December on an extradition request from the United States.

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Canada’s ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, described China’s actions on canola as “a punishment” when speaking to MPs in February.

In the months since Meng Wanzhou was arrested, China increased retaliatory economic pressure on Canada, and the casualties have included Canadian canola, pork and beef. With the loss of a major market sowing uncertainty in the industry, farmers of these products scrambled to find alternative buyers.

China relented on pork and beef months later and canola seed shipments to China recovered to less than one-third of previous levels. But licences for Viterra and Richardson remain suspended.

Mr. Everson said neither Canada’s Department of Agriculture nor the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has seen scientific evidence to support the actions China took a year ago.

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