BEIJING • China's removal of the export permit of a major Canadian canola company followed the discovery of "hazardous pests" in shipments, the Foreign Ministry said yesterday, in a move that has stoked diplomatic tensions.
Canada's largest agricultural handler, Winnipeg-based Richardson International, had its licence to ship canola to China revoked on March 1, which risks leaving Canadian farmers with a glut on their hands.
"Chinese Customs recently detected dangerous pests in canola seeds imported from Canada," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing.
"Canola seeds exported from one company had particularly serious issues leading to (stocks being) quarantined," he said.
Mr Lu said the decision to suspend imports was taken to minimise the "serious threat to agriculture and ecology" from harmful pests and was "completely reasonable and legal".
"Like any other country, the Chinese government also needs to protect the health and safety of its own citizens," he added.
Canada exported more than C$5 billion (S$5 billion) worth of canola last year, with almost half of it, or about 5 million tonnes, going to China, according to industry figures.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Tuesday she was "greatly" concerned about the move, adding there were "no scientific reasons for this action".
Canada's Agriculture Minister said the country's food inspection agency had carried out further investigations in response to China's moves and had not identified any pests or bacteria of concern.
China relies on Canada to supply more than 90 per cent of its imports of canola, used for cooking and as feed for animals and fish. But Beijing previously warned of potential curbs on canola imports, citing concerns over fungus in the imports.
In 2016, Beijing tried to impose tougher standards on levels of foreign material in canola imports, which was seen by some as an effort by China to reduce high domestic stocks.
Relations between Ottawa and Beijing have been thrown into crisis by the December arrest of Meng Wanzhou - the chief financial officer of telecoms giant Huawei - at the request of the United States.
Washington wants to put Meng on trial on fraud charges for allegedly violating Iran sanctions and lying about it to US banks, and the case has become a major diplomatic headache for Ottawa.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS