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US should step in to help with Canada’s canola feud with China: former ambassador

OTTAWA — Manitoba MPs want to fast-track hearings on China’s escalating canola spat, while Canada’s former ambassador says the Liberals need to push the United States to intervene.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/03/2019 (1410 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Manitoba MPs want to fast-track hearings on China’s escalating canola spat, while Canada’s former ambassador says the Liberals need to push the United States to intervene.

“Today was a dramatic escalation of a story with respect to canola, that’s been going on for some time,” said Transcona-Elmwood MP Daniel Blaikie.

On Friday, the Canola Council of Canada (CCC) said all its members were having their seeds blocked by China.

MPs were supposed to meet Thursday to hear from high-ranking officials on how they’ve responded to China’s sudden suspension earlier this month of Winnipeg-based Richardson International’s canola seed-import licence, on the grounds of “dangerous pests.”

China’s actions are widely viewed as retaliation for Ottawa’s arrest last fall of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of United States tax authorities.

Guy Saint-Jacques, who served as Canada’s ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016, said the canola spat is clearly linked to Huawei case.

Jason Franson / The Canadian Press files Guy Saint-Jacques, Canada's former ambassador to China

“It’s very unfortunate that farmers in Manitoba have to suffer because of a problem that was imposed on us by the U.S.,” he told the Free Press.

The Liberal chair of the House trade committee cancelled Thursday’s scheduled hearings, due to the opposition’s 30-hour filibuster over the SNC-Lavailin scandal.

CCC head Jim Everson said companies are helping federal inspectors vet for any pests, and that this issue hadn’t emerged with any other countries.

“We are working closely with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) on a technical level to provide information from our industry about the issues that the Chinese have raised,” he said in a Friday interview.

Canada exported $2.7 billion in canola seed to China last year, as well as $1.1-billion in oil and $504.4 million of canola meal, according to the CCC. China accounts for 40 per cent of Canada’s canola exports.

Some shippers have reported a price drop in their exports elsewhere, and difficulty finding new clients in Japan, Europe and South Asia.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave few details Friday on how Canada would respond, saying he was optimistic Canada could resolve the spat just as it had when China raised concerns about the blackleg pest in canola crops three years ago.

Tijana Martin / The Canadian Press Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

“We’re going to roll up our sleeves and work with the Chinese officials to demonstrate that canola should continue to flow safely from Canada to China,” Trudeau told reporters in Thunder Bay.

“We’re optimistic we’re going to be able to make headway, this year,” he said.

Saint-Jacques said the Liberals have done a good job of trying not to antagonize China, by focusing on the pest issue instead of making harsh statements.

He said Ottawa was smart to convince other countries to speak out about other Huawei-related issues, like the detainment of Canadian citizens, because Canada alone holds minimal clout.

That’s why he was surprised Friday morning to see China was lashing out at more canola firms. “I said to myself: ‘Where will this stop?’ China is really playing hardball.”

He’s further concerned by the country acting to block a product popular with many of its citizens. “What I fear is that China now seems to be in the mentality that they don’t care.”

That leaves Canada little room for manoeuvre: to get the Trump administration to push China to roll back its canola restrictions, or start a years-long trade lawsuit.

Farmers feeling repercussions of trading spat

Craig Riese, one of the 43,000 Western Canadian farmers who produce about 20 million tonnes of canola every year, can already feel the effects of the news this week that China, Canada’s largest canola export customer, has halted Canadian canola imports.

“Any time your number one exporting customer tells you they are not interested in your product, you have to be concerned,” Riese said.

But there are degrees of concern.

Craig Riese, one of the 43,000 Western Canadian farmers who produce about 20 million tonnes of canola every year, can already feel the effects of the news this week that China, Canada’s largest canola export customer, has halted Canadian canola imports.

“Any time your number one exporting customer tells you they are not interested in your product, you have to be concerned,” Riese said.

But there are degrees of concern.

Read the full story here.

“We have to underline to the U.S. that they have put us in this mess, and this has the risk of translating into billions of dollars of lost sales for Canada companies,” he said.

Conservative MP Candice Bergen told the Commons about reports that China had expanded its restrictions to all forms of Canadian canola, as well as wheat, peas, linseed and canola meal.

“The loss of this market is catastrophic, and it will cost billions of dollars to our economy,” said the MP for Portage-Lisgar.

Her Tory colleague Randy Hoback told reporters the loss of this market would reverberate across Canada.

“The reason we’re in this quagmire is because our government hasn’t done what it needs to do and created a good environment, working relationship with China to keep these markets open. Now Canadian farmers are paying because of that,” said Hoback.

The Saskatchewan MP added that the Liberal chair ought to not have cancelled Thursday’s hearings, and could hold them over the weekend instead of the scheduled date of April 1. He argued that hearing from bureaucrats would reassure the markets and producers.

“The instability in the marketplace is huge and farmers don’t know where to turn,” he said. The chair’s office did not reply to an interview request.

Blaikie wants the trade committee to hear from officials on “what kinds of contingency plans have departments been working on,” so MPs can assess them.

“We want to make sure that this government actually has answers to those questions.”

Blaikie said the Liberals have worsened relations with China due to what he deemed a hypocritical approach to the rule of law.

After Canada insisted it would never interfere in the Huawei prosecution, the government admitted to pressuring its former attorney general to allow an effective plea bargain in SNC-Lavalin’s corruption case, which has raised red flags for bodies like the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

With files from Martin Cash

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Craig Riese
MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Craig Riese
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