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Pork a pawn in battle with China

Industries seek technical solution to China’s ban on pork, beef imports amid political tensions

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Canadian producers are hoping for a swift resolution to the country’s latest trade dispute with China after a ban was imposed on all pork and beef from Canada. Though the ban comes amidst wider political and trade disputes between the two nations, producers are keen not to see their livelihoods dragged into the morass.

“China is an important market, so obviously anytime we have some sort of market interruption, it’s unsettling and concerning,” said Eric Schwindt, chairperson of Ontario Pork.

“From what I’ve heard so far, it looks to be more of a technical issue and something that both sides, I mean the Chinese and Canadian governments, are working hard to get resolved. So we’re encouraged by that,” he said. “As China has grown to become a larger and larger market for us, it’s important that we get this fixed quickly.”

With China pulling up the rampart, Canadian exporters are looking for other markets to offload their products. China is the second largest recipient of Canada’s pork exports, and the fifth largest of its beef. “So we have to change the customers we’re dealing with, find those new markets. And it’s a switch: so we’ll be going after markets in say Vietnam or some other country.”

“The initial reaction is a lot of concern as we learn more and we hear both governments are actively working to resolve this. We’re feeling more optimistic that this will get fixed in the near-term versus something that’s going to go on for years and years. I think there’s cautious optimism that while this is a blip and a significant blip, it’s not going to be a long-term thing,” said Schwindt, who operates a farm north of Elmira.

The dispute erupted over export certificates that the Chinese government claimed were forged. The certificates are meant to clear products being exported as satisfying the requirements of their recipient country. In this case, China contends export certificates incorrectly labeled pork exports free of a feed additive, ractopamine.

“Recently, the Chinese customs authorities have inspected ractopamine residues in a batch of pork products exported from Canada to China,” reads a statement from the Chinese embassy in Canada. “Therefore, the Chinese side has immediately suspended the import of pork products from the relevant enterprises and required the Canadian side to carry out investigation.”

An investigation by the Chinese authorities claimed up to 188 such “counterfeit” certificates were forged. The Chinese regulatory authorities requested the Canadian government stop issuing export certificates for beef and pork on June 25.

“We hope the Canadian side would attach great importance to this incident, complete the investigation as soon as possible and take effective measures to ensure the safety of food exported to China in a more responsible manner,” said the statement, attributed to an embassy spokesperson.

Schwindt sees this as a technical issue rather than a political one, and sees a solution following along similar lines.

“At this point, the pork industry is working very hard to deal with the technical issue in terms of those export certificates. That’s the extent of our involvement. And we’re optimistic that we, or the government, can get that technical issue resolved quickly and trade will resume,” he said.

The federal government, for its part, says it is working with Canadian and Chinese bodies to quickly restore trade back to normal.

“We are working closely with farmers, industry, provinces and exporters to restore market access to China as quickly as possible. We know that Canada’s food safety system is recognized as one of the best in the world and we will continue to stand-up for Canada’s entire agricultural sector,” said Marie-Claude Bibeau, minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, in a statement.

Whether a solution is readily in the offing, or whether Canada’s beef and pork industries will become the latest collateral in a tit-for-tat squabble between the two governments remains to be seen. Tensions have flared between the two countries after the arrest of a prominent Chinese executive, Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, by Canadian authorities acting at the behest of U.S. officials.

China has since retaliated with the arrests of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, whom the Chinese government has accused of spying.

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