China is temporarily suspending all meat imports from Canada, further escalating diplomatic tensions between the two countries as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves on Wednesday for the G20 leaders’ summit in Japan.
The Canadian Meat Council said it was told China will stop accepting Canadian beef and pork effective Tuesday evening owing to a falsified export certificate.
Chinese customs inspectors detected the residue of ractopamine, a restricted feed additive, in a batch of Canadian pork products, the Chinese embassy in Ottawa said in a statement on Tuesday. The drug is approved for use in Canada and the United States, but not in Europe, Russia or China. A subsequent Chinese investigation found official veterinary-health certificates attached to the batch of pork exports were counterfeit, reflecting “obvious safety loopholes” in Canada’s export system, the Chinese embassy said.
Canada’s Minister of Agriculture acknowledged issues with the export certificates but called it a “technical issue” and maintained food exports are safe.
“The Canadian Food and Inspection Agency (CFIA) identified an issue involving inauthentic export certificates that could affect the export of pork and beef products to China,” Justine Lesage, press secretary for Marie-Claude Bibeau, said on Tuesday.
Diplomatic relations between Canada and China have been deteriorating since Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver last year on an extradition request from the United States. Several days later, China detained Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor in an apparent attempt to push for Ms. Meng’s release. Beijing later formally charged the two men with espionage.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters at a daily briefing Wednesday that Canada should “take seriously China’s concerns” and immediately release Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of the company’s founder.
On Monday, Ms. Meng’s lawyers urged Canada’s Justice Minister to withdraw extradition proceedings against Ms. Meng, but received no immediate response.
At the Group of 20 summit in Osaka that starts on Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to bring up the cases of the detained Canadians in a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
China had previously halted pork imports from three Canadian producers, including one earlier this month and two in April, and it has also blocked imports of Canadian canola seed.
Canada should expect China to continue to escalate its response “until justice is served” for Ms. Meng, said Victor Gao, vice-president for Center for China and Globalization, a non-governmental think tank in Beijing.
“More will come to make the Canadian government fully realize that they are in the wrong, and they will be punished for whatever wrongdoing," Mr. Gao said. "They are violating the legal rights of a Chinese national. This is very simple logic.”
Ms. Lesage, the spokeswoman for Agriculture Minister Bibeau, said the incident with the veterinary-health documents is specific to export certificates to China and export certificates to other countries are not affected. “The Canadian food system is one of the best in the world and we are confident in the safety of Canadian products and Canadian exports,” Ms. Lesage said.
Conservative agriculture critic Luc Berthold said the pork ban was a political move, not one motivated by food safety, and he called on Mr. Trudeau to raise the issue of the two detained Canadians personally with Mr. Xi.
China is a significant importer of Canadian meat. From January to April of this year, China imported $310-million in Canadian pork, or about 22 per cent of all Canadian pork exports, according to Statistics Canada. China imported nearly $64-million worth of Canadian beef products over the same period, or about 6 per cent of all beef exports.
Canadian industry representatives expressed their worry on Tuesday.
“Meat processors, along with the entire meat and livestock industry are extremely concerned as this will have a significant business impact on our sector and will create huge financial loss for our industry,” said Marie-France MacKinnon, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Meat Council.
The Canadian Pork Council said the halt in exports is “not the result of a food safety concern but the misuse of Canada’s reputation as a supplier of safe quality products.”
The council said it was working with industry groups and government officials to identify next steps and hopes for a quick resolution.
Kevin Boon, general manager of the BC Cattlemen’s Association, said he hoped any trade disruption would be short-lived.
“I fully believe it will be kind of a blip. I really think it’s more political,” Mr. Boon said. “But at the same time, it’s important that we investigate and make sure we are sending the products they [China] want. … I’m sure the CFIA and our industry will do everything necessary to make sure we clear it up,” he added.
Boyd Stuart, a rancher near Medstead, Sask., said that Canadian producers may be able to export to other markets because of China’s decision.
“It is scary because [China’s] a pretty big customer,” he said. “But are we going to sell more meat to South America now and South America can fill the China void?
“The meat is going to have to come from somewhere to feed the world,” said Mr. Stuart, who has about 300 head of cattle.
But Paul Evans, a professor at UBC’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, said the stakes for China are higher than simply getting its way in the Meng affair. He predicted things will likely get worse for Canada.
"I don’t think there’s a calculation in Beijing that Canada is going to reverse the way we’ve been handling the Meng affair in the near future. It’s a signalling to the world, and to the United States, that there are costs to be paid and that China has teeth when it is crossed.
"It’s punishment with the intention of sending a signal to other audiences, not just on the Canadian side.”
Charles Burton, an associate professor of Political Science at Brock University, said it seems “extraordinarily coincidental” that meat shipments now join canola seeds as being deemed unacceptable for import into China.
“Hitting Canadian meat exports affects farmers in central Canada as the canola-seed prohibition impacts farmers in Western Canada. So there is evidently a strategic element in this latest retaliation by the [People’s Republic of China] authorities," Mr. Burton said.
With a report from Xiao Xu and The Canadian Press