Ottawa pressed to consider more options on China’s canola ban

Canola Council, Wheat Growers call for full-time ambassador

canada embassy beijing
A police officer gestures at the photographer outside Canada's embassy in Beijing on Dec. 12, 2018. (Photo: Reuters/Thomas Peter)

With canola export issues still looming large, some Canadian ag industry groups want the federal government to boost its diplomatic presence on the matter.

The Canola Council of Canada on Wednesday said a Canadian technical delegation “has not yet been accepted” to travel to China and address Beijing’s recent suspensions of canola imports from two Canadian grain firms, Richardson International and Viterra.

The two companies’ licenses to ship canola to China were suspended last month over allegations of pest contamination in shipments.

News agency Bloomberg on Wednesday quoted a department director at China’s ag ministry as saying China’s Canadian canola purchases will drop “significantly” after the ministry ramped up its quality inspections on Canadian cargoes.

“While technical discussions are still required, continued delay shows that more options need to be considered,” the Canola Council said Wednesday in a release.

The council recommended the federal government “appoint an ambassador to China at the earliest opportunity to assist Canada’s diplomats in their ongoing work at our embassy in Beijing” and “review all diplomatic, technical and legal tools to engage Chinese officials in resuming trade.”

Canada has been without an official ambassador to China since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked John McCallum to resign in late January. Jim Nickel, Canada’s deputy head of mission in Beijing since last August, has been Canada’s point man in China since December as its charge d’affaires.

McCallum’s ouster followed his public remarks regarding Canada’s December arrest of Chinese tech executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the U.S. government, which seeks her extradition on allegations of fraud. China’s canola ban has been seen by some industry observers as a retaliatory move against Canada over the arrest.

Technical discussions on canola exports have since taken place between the Chinese and Canadian governments, the Canola Council said Wednesday, but “progress depends on an in-person meeting that has yet to occur.”

“China has every right to take action related to plant health for products entering their country, but they also have an obligation to explain the scientific basis for their actions,” council president Jim Everson said.

“So far, we’ve seen little sign that China wants to engage in a science-based discussion, and therefore we need the government of Canada to consider all available options.”

The council also pressed Ottawa to “support producers through this uncertain time by taking action as recommend by grower organizations.”

The Western Canadian Wheat Growers on March 25 also urged Ottawa to appoint a “full-time” ambassador to China and to make China’s crop bans a “top priority” for federal agriculture, trade and foreign affairs ministers.

“This is clearly a political issue, not a quality issue… As a political issue, we need the Canadian government to be engaged on this immediately,” the group said in a release, also citing concerns over exports of Canadian wheat, peas and flax to China.

The group said it recognizes the need for “alternate” export markets to mitigate political interference, but noted “other Canadian markets are being given tax dollar support for smaller market changes” compared to the market losses in China.

“We are not asking for handouts, rather we ask that politicians actually deal with the political issues at hand and let farmers deal with what we do best,” Wheat Growers chair Jim Wickett said in the group’s release. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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