OTTAWA—Trade and diplomatic tensions are escalating between Ottawa and Beijing as the federal government studies a new demand by China to suspend all Canadian meat exports — a blow to Canadian beef and pork producers — based on Beijing’s claim that Canadian veterinary health certificates have been forged.
Canada’s international trade diversification minister, Jim Carr, said Wednesday “somebody” may be tampering with Canadian exports or at least the reputation of Canada’s producers, even as he suggested neither Beijing nor Ottawa is deliberately trying to sabotage the relationship.
“Somebody is trying to use the Canadian brand to move product into the Chinese market,” said Carr, speaking in Toronto.
“There is an investigation going forward,” said Carr, adding federal officials are consulting the industry, Chinese counterparts and provincial officials about the allegations of forged export approvals.
“We’re taking it seriously and working very hard to get to the bottom of it. We want to know why this is happening, in whose interest this could be, and working with all of our partners to get an answer as fast as possible,” Carr told reporters.
A senior Canadian government official earlier told the Star that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is weighing the demand, but no conclusion had yet been reached.
Coming on top of Chinese limits on Canadian canola, Beijing’s latest move is an alarming backdrop to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau departure for Osaka, Japan.
Trudeau attends the G20 summit this week of world leaders including China’s President Xi Jinping, but there is no guarantee he will secure his own bilateral meeting with the Chinese leader.
Trudeau wants Chinese authorities to release two detained Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, whose arrests in December were seen as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the high-profile Huawei executive under the Canada-U.S. extradition treaty.
Speaking in Beijing, a Chinese government official said China moved a day earlier to block all Canadian meat products from entering the country, saying Chinese investigators had found up to 188 counterfeit approvals for Canadian pork.
China is Canada’s third-largest market for beef, veal and pork products, behind only the U.S. and Japan as the biggest consumer of Canadian meat exports, so this latest move is a huge threat to Canadian producers, just as China’s restrictions on canola exports slammed canola farmers
Quebec Premier François Legault said Wednesday “of course it has a very large impact on pork producers in Quebec.”
He said he has asked federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau about financial assistance for those farmers and is seeking assurances it has nothing to do with the Meng case.
Geng Shuang, spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, on Wednesday dismissed a suggestion the move was retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Meng.
“It is the responsibility of the Chinese government to ensure the safety of Chinese consumers and safeguard food safety in China. The relevant Chinese authorities are acting totally in accordance with law,” he said.
“We hope the Canadian side will take this incident seriously, complete the investigation as soon as possible and take corrective measures that can effectively ensure the safety of food exported to China.”
According to a translation of his remarks to reporters that the foreign ministry posted, Shuang said that Chinese customs authorities recently detected “ractopamine residues in pork products exported from Canada to China” and immediately suspended the import of pork products “from the relevant enterprises and asked the Canadian side to investigate that.”
He said China has now taken “urgent preventive measures and asked the Canadian government to suspend the issuance of certificates for meat exported to China since June 25.”
Geng slagged Canadian export supervision processes for allowing the fake certificates to slip through.
Geng said Chinese investigators found that “the official veterinary health certificates for the batch of pork exported to China were counterfeit and the number of those forgery certificates was up to 188.
“These forged certificates were sent to the Chinese regulatory authorities through Canadian official certificate notification channel, which reflects that the Canadian meat export supervision system has obvious safety loopholes.”
“As to the Meng Wanzhou case you just mentioned, our position is very clear. We urge the Canadian side to take our solemn concerns seriously, immediately release Ms. Meng Wanzhou and ensure that she returns to China safe and sound.”
Last week, Trudeau met with U.S. President Donald Trump to press his concerns and enlist U.S. support for Canada’s position vis-à-vis China.
Trump promised to “represent” Trudeau well in his own meeting with Xi, but offered no specific commitment to either press for the Canadians’ release or to drop the U.S charges against Meng, which are related to allegations Huawei tried to circumvent U.S sanctions on Iran.
“Anything I can do to help Canada, I will be doing,” Trump told reporters.
But the U.S.-China dispute is Trump’s main concern. He has held out the threat of further tariffs on China if no new trade deal can be reached.
Chinese authorities too are digging in.
Geng said Wednesday that China’s position is “very clear.”
“A trade war with additional tariffs will harm others as well as oneself and won’t help solve any problem.”
Canola Council of Canada spokesman Brian Innes said farmers hope there will be some resolution at the G20. “Predictable rules based trade is critical to our industry — we hope world leaders agree on how to put impulsive actions behind us and return to predictability. This means we need to remove unjustified trade barriers and quickly find science-based solutions to regulatory concerns.”
Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc