Government pushes China for canola evidence, mulling aid for farmers

Canadian Food Inspection Agency having ongoing conversations with Chinese customs officials

The federal government says it is considering subsidizing farmers hit by China’s $2-billion ban on Canadian canola imports, and is pushing the People’s Republic to prove recent shipments were in fact contaminated.

Two federal cabinet ministers and a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday the government is looking at financial options to help farmers.

“I am doing a review of the different tools we have in terms of financing support for our farmers,” Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau told The Canadian Press in Saskatchewan, where she joined International Trade Minister Jim Carr in meetings with canola industry representatives.

Bibeau also said the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is having “ongoing conversations” with Chinese customs officials that are ”based on science” in order to validate China’s claim it found hazardous organisms in the recent shipments of two major canola exporters, Richardson International Ltd. and Viterra, Inc.

“We are asking them to show us evidence of the pests that they said they have found in our shipments,” Bibeau said, adding that a second Canadian analysis of the returned samples came up empty.

“We still haven’t found any irregularities in these shipments, so we are asking for evidence.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said the federal cabinet is seized with helping canola farmers, and she’s had conversations with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale of Saskatchewan, where half of Canada’s canola is produced.

READ MORE: Chinese importers have stopped buying Canadian canola seed: Industry group

Bibeau and Carr are leading the effort, she said, and “they have the very strong support of all of the cabinet in this, and are working on a broader plan to support our canola farmers.”

Earlier Friday, Conservative MPs on the House of Commons agriculture committee failed in their attempt to persuade the Liberal majority to compel Carr, Bibeau and Freeland to testify. The Conservatives wanted the ministers to address what they say is a broader political crisis with China that’s affecting the livelihoods of Canadian farmers.

The Liberal majority rejected the motion, angering the Conservatives, who also directed plenty towards China.

NDP agriculture critic Alistair MacGregor said the Liberals should have allowed the ministers to speak at the committee so Canadians could learn about the government’s contingency plan.

“Our canola producers should not pay the price for Liberals mishandling the dispute with China,” he said.

China’s decision to ban $2 billion worth of Canadian exports is widely seen as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of the founder of telecom giant Huawei, at the behest of the United States.

“To claim the canola sent to China didn’t meet quality standards is completely absurd,” said Tory MP Luc Berthold.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce said China’s decision has no basis in scientific fact.

Mark Agnew, senior director of international policy for the chamber, said he trusts the assessments by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that Canada’s crop is safe.

Agnew stopped short of linking the arrest with the canola issue.

“When you look at the numbers the canola industry has put out, there’s a massive market here that looks like it’s being shut off for Canadian canola exporters,” Agnew said Friday in an interview.

“We trust what Health Canada and CFIA say about the safety of Canadian exports. It’s quite easy to see there’s not a science-based justification for what China is doing to Canadian canola exports.”

China was infuriated by Meng’s Dec. 1 arrest on a U.S. extradition warrant alleging fraud.

Nine days after Meng’s arrest, China imprisoned two Canadians — ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and the entrepreneur Michael Spavor — and accused them of violating China’s national security.

China is the recipient of about 40 per cent of Canada’s exports of canola seed and the only country to raise a technical issue with the product.

The Canadian canola industry is urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to press China for solutions.

Canadian farmers say China’s ban has created uncertainty ahead of the spring planting season. Along with the Canola Council of Canada, they are calling on the government to send a delegation to China to address the issue.

Earlier this week, Trudeau mentioned the possibility of sending a delegation to China, as he defended the quality control of the product as “top-notch and world-class.”

Asked Friday, if subsidizing farmers was a possibility, Trudeau’s spokeswoman Chantal Gagnon said: “We are working with farmers, companies, and various levels of government to support the industry through a difficult time, and we are looking at all options.”

Saskatchewan Conservative MP Randy Hoback said the cabinet ministers need to provide “comfort” to farmers that they will have a market to sell to this fall.

Hoback warned that unless the government can repair the damaged relationship with China, other sectors could be vulnerable to retaliation, including maple syrup or seafood.

Earlier this week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China’s actions on canola were “scientific and reasonable.”

Without mentioning Huawei directly, Geng said China hopes Canada can “get along with us to ensure the sound and steady development of China-Canada relations.”

Geng said Canada should “take practical measures to correct the mistakes it made earlier” in the bilateral relationship.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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