TORONTO — China has suspended the export permits of two Canadian pork exporters, including Quebec-based Olymel LP, apparently over package mislabelling amid growing tensions between the two countries.
Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said administrative issues related to routine customs inspections arise periodically.
She said the current suspension is limited to two processing facilities with all other approved Canadian pork processing facilities remaining eligible to export to China.
“CFIA [the Canadian Food Inspection Agency] is looking into the situation and we are working with the Chinese importers and Chinese authorities to lift the suspension as soon as possible,” she said in an email.
The department was formally notified Wednesday of the suspension after Customs China posted the information on its website the prior evening.
The suspensions come amid strained relations between the two countries following last December’s arrest in Vancouver of Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. warrant. China has since arrested two Canadians and halted canola imports from two Canadian companies.
Ottawa has been unable to follow up on the notification because China is in the middle of a holiday this week, said a minister’s spokeswoman.
Kate Hawkins said administrative issues often surface, sometimes over paperwork that is missing some Chinese characters.
“Sometimes it’s really just simple and we address it and it can take a few weeks and the problem is resolved.”
Canadian pork producer Olymel said its plant in Red Deer, Alta., is one of two affected by the suspension.
“We are assessing the situation with the authorities,” said spokesman Richard Vigneault, adding there is no impact on production at the plant.
“Operations are still going on and there will be no change.”
The Canadian Pork Council says the suspensions appear to stem from a labelling problem and are not tied to any political moves by China.
“From our understanding what the plants are looking into, it is an exterior labelling problem that they’re going to be fixing,” said council spokesman Gary Stordy.
China is Canada’s second-largest export market by volume after the United States.
Alberta Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen said the province is deeply concerned by the export suspension and is working with Ottawa to resolve it.
“The federal government must find a resolution to these diplomatic disputes and restore access to our agricultural export markets,” he said in a release.
“Alberta has offered up every technical and scientific capability we have to help work with Canada and the People’s Republic of China in this matter.”
Alberta pork producers raised 2.8 million pigs in 2017, according to an industry website.
Quebec-based Drummond Export said it was also notified about a suspension.
Bruno Mussely, international development director, said the company based in Drummondville doesn’t believe there is a problem with the meat itself.
“It’s not delisted of course, it’s just suspended. It usually means a minor problem,” he said, noting it’s the company’s first suspension from China.
Ross Marowits, The Canadian Press