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Report on Business China suspends imports from Quebec-based pork producers Olymel, Drummond

A worker handles fresh pork at the Olymel pork plant in Red Deer, Alta.

Todd Korol/Tood Korol

China has suspended imports from two Quebec-based pork producers, a new sign that diplomatic tensions between Beijing and Ottawa could be affecting a wider swath of Canada’s food exports.

Pork plants owned by Olymel LP and Drummond Export are suspended from selling into the Chinese market because of what the companies and the Canadian government say is incorrect “labelling” on boxes or import certificates.

Tensions between China and Canada arose after the arrest of a Chinese telecom executive at the request of the United States. After Huawei Technologies Co.’s Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver in December, Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were detained by Chinese authorities. They remain in custody.

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The pork suspensions are the latest examples of China subjecting Canadian agricultural exports to slower inspections and customs processing, even as Canada’s government publicly declines to link the moves to fallout over Ms. Meng’s arrest. There is no evidence that the pork imports are tied to the political tensions, but China’s recent move to block Canadian canola-seed imports unfolded in a similar manner.

Richard Vigneault, a spokesman for St.-Hyacinth, Que.-based Olymel, said he believes the suspension is “temporary” and affects only the products from the company’s plant in Red Deer, Alta. “We are assessing the situation now with the authorities,” Mr. Vigneault said Thursday.

Mr. Vigneault declined to provide details on the reason for the halt of shipments, but said Chinese authorities notified the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) of the suspension of the plant’s imports, “and then we were notified.”

“It looks like it’s a labelling problem,” said Bruno Mussely, a director at Drummond Export in Drummondville, Que., that ships frozen pigs’ feet to China. Mr. Mussely said the company was notified of the suspension by a customs broker and is waiting to talk with Canadian government officials for more details. He said the problem could be a Chinese translation on a box, and noted that the company is suspended − not delisted or banned from exporting to China. “Hopefully, it’s minor,” he said by phone, declining to discuss sales figures or volumes.

Marie-Claude Bibeau, federal Minister of Agriculture, said a notice on China’s customs-department website said the temporary suspension of import licences was due to “incorrect labelling of certain import certificates.”

“The suspension is limited to two processing facilities only. All other approved Canadian pork-processing facilities remain eligible to export to China,” Ms. Bibeau said. “CFIA is investigating the situation and we are working with the Chinese importers and Chinese authorities to lift the suspension as soon as possible.”

In March, China suspended canola-seed imports from two major Canadian companies, Viterra Inc. and Richardson International, and Chinese processors halted other purchases of the grain from Canada’s exporters, moves widely believed to be linked to the diplomatic dispute.

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In addition, a commodities industry source said shipments of peas and canola oil are undergoing longer-than-usual inspections and paperwork processing at Chinese ports. An inspection that typically takes two days now can take two weeks. The source, who was granted anonymity by The Globe and Mail because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said the delays have soured Chinese importers and food processors on Canadian products and made them more likely to buy from another country.

China has said the canola imports were halted due to pests, an assertion that the Canadian government said is not backed by its food inspectors. It is not clear if the suspension of some pork imports is another form of retaliation.

The Canadian government is not drawing any link between Ms. Meng’s arrest and the restrictions or bans on Canadian products, instead addressing the issues as science- or regulatory-based.

“Canadian pork entering China is subject to routine inspections. Administrative issues related to customs inspections arise periodically in our trade with China, as with other countries,” said Justine Lesage, a CFIA spokeswoman.

China is the biggest buyer of Canadian canola, and the second-biggest buyer of Canadian pork.

Olymel is one of Canada’s largest meat processors, with 13,000 employees and 31 production and distribution plants that export to more than 65 countries. The Red Deer plant employs more than 1,600 people, Mr. Vigneault said, and produces fresh and frozen pork.

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Janet Riley, a spokeswoman for Maple Leaf Foods, another large meat producer and exporter, said the company’s sales to China are not affected. “It’s not us,” she said.

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