OTTAWA (Reuters) - China plans to boost inspections of imported Canadian meats and meat products as bilateral trade relations deteriorate, Canadian government officials said on Tuesday, a move meat industry executives said could have “a disastrous effect” on their business.
China has already blocked imports of Canadian canola seed and temporarily suspended permits from two Canadian pork plants. Beijing is demanding Ottawa return a Chinese tech executive who is facing extradition to the United States.
A Canadian agriculture ministry notice seen by Reuters said the Canadian Embassy in Beijing had been told Chinese customs agents would open all containers of Canadian meat and meat products, and that in some cases 100% of the contents would be inspected.
Chinese officials cited “recent cases of non-compliance of pork shipments,” adding that the move was linked to the risk of African swine fever and anti-smuggling measures, the Canadian ministry said in its notice.
China’s sow herd - being closely watched by the global livestock market as an epidemic of incurable African swine fever kills millions of animals in the world’s top pork producer - fell by 22.3% in April from a year earlier, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said last month.
The Canadian Pork Council said the inspection issue was linked to problems with supporting documents and not food safety. Still, the Canadian Meat Council (CMC), which represents major processors, urged members to “increase significantly the surveillance and compliance with all requirements” for exports.
“We cannot stress enough that the slightest ‘non-compliance’ could jeopardize our entire meat exports to China, which would have a disastrous effect on all CMC members,” it said in a message to members, seen by Reuters.
In the first three months of this year, China was Canada’s third biggest pork export market, taking in C$215 million ($160.5 million) of Canada’s pork and pork products.
“Reports of increased meat inspections are of little concern since we have always operated with the expectation that all shipments to China are being regularly inspected,” said Gary Stordy, the pork council’s director of government affairs.
Over that period, China was also Canada’s third-biggest export market for beef and veal, buying C$48 million worth, according to Statistics Canada.
“I do know shippers are going to be wary of putting product on the water when they’re not sure what’s going to happen at the other end, if they’re going to be treated fairly or not,” said John Masswohl of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.
Canadian Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said in a statement that Ottawa was working with producers “to underscore the importance of heightened quality assurance efforts to ensure there are no trade disruptions due to administrative errors.”
Canadian officials said China has not yet responded to repeated requests for talks on canola.
Lu Shaye, China’s Ambassador to Canada, said the increased meat inspections were not a form of retaliation.
China’s “competent authorities take measures always according to (the) law and on (the) basis of (a) scientific approach”, he told CTV television.
Canada’s opposition Conservative Party, which leads the ruling Liberals in opinion polls ahead of an October election, has said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has bungled relations with China.
“The Chinese government has now set its sights on our livestock industry ... when will the prime minister realize that his inaction is devastating Canadian farmers and ranchers?” asked Luc Berthold, the party’s agriculture spokesman.
Brazil said on Monday it had temporarily halted beef exports to China following an atypical case of mad cow disease.
Additional reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, writing by David Ljunggren; editing by David Gregorio