OTTAWA — A third Canadian canola exporter has received a non-compliance notice from China over quality concerns, the federal agriculture minister said Tuesday, the latest development in an escalating feud with the Asian country.
Marie-Claude Bibeau confirmed the Chinese government’s move during her appearance before a parliamentary committee studying a trade dispute that has seen China suspend the canola-seed sale permits of two other Canadian firms.
“We’ve been informed that there’s a third company that received a non-compliance notification,” Bibeau said, though she wouldn’t name it. “It doesn’t mean that they’re suspended, either, at this time. So, we will obviously keep working with them and see how it goes.”
In recent weeks, citing concerns about pests, China has sent non-compliance notifications to Richardson International Ltd. and Viterra Inc., two major Canadian exporters of canola seed. Chinese officials also suspended their licences.
China’s moves to choke off Canadian canola-seed imports have been widely viewed as the superpower applying economic pressure on Canada following the December arrest of senior Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver at the behest of the United States.
Curt Vossen, the CEO of Richardson, told another House of Commons committee Tuesday that canola products alone were just over 15 per cent of all of Canada’s exports to China and, last year, were worth more than $4 billion.
China imported $2.7 billion worth of Canadian canola seed last year, which ensures any prolonged feud would be felt by farmers, the industry and the broader economy. The seeds are the raw material for canola oil, which is widely used for cooking and in some industries.
Vossen, whose Winnipeg-based company has been doing business in China for more than a century, said he cannot emphasize enough the importance of finding a solution to the feud — and quickly.
As the federal government searches for that solution, it’s been trying to find new markets and cabinet ministers have been touting Canada’s recently ratified trade deals with the Asia-Pacific region and the European Union.
“If the current disruption continues over the longer term, we will have no choice but to find other markets for Canadian canola seed, however doing so will be no easy task,” said Vossen. “While we are confident that we can eventually find other markets, it will not be a painless exercise.”
He urged the federal government to be “more aggressive” in defending the interests of Canada’s agriculture exporters in China and around the world, where they’re facing trade barriers in several jurisdictions.
“To say that canola is important to Canada’s trading relationship with China would be a gross understatement — canola and, indeed, the entire grains and oilseeds complex is the foundation of Canada’s trading relationship with China,” he said, noting the disruption comes at a critical time right before seeding season, when farmers are deciding how much to grow.
The Liberal government has insisted it wants to find a scientific solution to the dispute and Bibeau has said she sent a letter to her Chinese counterpart with a request to send a delegation of experts to China to examine the issue. Officials are examining options to support farmers through the possible expansion of existing programs, Bibeau said.
The federal Liberals have also established a working group that includes officials from Richardson and Viterra and representatives from the governments of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
On March 1, the same day China suspended Richardson’s licence, Canada’s Justice Department gave the go-ahead for the extradition case against Meng.
It marked the formal start of the high-profile process that has thrust Canada into a highly uncomfortable position between China and the United States.
In the days following Meng’s arrest, China arrested Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig, a Canadian diplomat on leave, and Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur, on allegations of engaging in activities that have endangered Chinese national security.
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Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press
Governments earned $186M in pot taxes in 5 1/2 months of legalization: StatCan
Federal and provincial governments earned $186 million in cannabis-related revenue in the first five-and-a-half months since legalization in October, Statistics Canada said Wednesday.
The Ottawa-based agency said revenue came from product-specific excise taxes and general taxes on goods and services, such as the Harmonized Sales Tax, directly related to the sale of cannabis.
The federal government drew $19 million in excise taxes, while provincial governments got $79 million from excise taxes and related adjustments.
Statistics Canada says revenues from general taxes on goods and services brought in an additional $36 million at the federal level and $53 million via direct provincial general taxes on goods and services.
It added that excise taxes increased by 12.4 per cent in the first quarter of 2019 compared with the fourth quarter of 2018 on higher sales by licensed producers to distributors.
During the same time frame, general taxes on goods and services from the sale of cannabis were up 68.1 per cent from increased purchases made by households.
“Federal and provincial government revenue from general taxes on goods and services as well as excise taxes may rise further in the second half of the year, as additional cannabis retail outlets are scheduled to open,” Statistics Canada said in a release.
These figures are the first glimpse into pot-related government revenues since Canada legalized cannabis for recreational use on October 17.
Due to the “bumpy” rollout of legalization last fall, these first-ever government tax figures are lower than expected, said the Conference Board of Canada’s economist Robyn Gibbard.
“However, we think that as the kinks are worked out, governments can expect strong growth in revenues from cannabis sales going forward,” she said in a statement.
Legalization on Oct. 17 was met with brisk demand from Canadian consumers and supply shortages at government and private retailers, prompting some to reduce their hours of operation or provincial governments to cap the number of retail licences.
The supply situation has improved in recent months, and Alberta has lifted the moratorium on new retail licenses and Quebec cannabis outlets have resumed more normal hours.
Still, household spending figures from Statistics Canada for the first-quarter of this year show that most non-medical cannabis is purchased from the illicit market, at $1.1 billion, compared to $377 million bought through legal channels.
Armina Ligaya, The Canadian Press
PM worries China could target more Canadian goods as fears about soybeans rise
OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s worried an ongoing diplomatic dispute could see China target imports of other Canadian agricultural products as concerns grow about soybean shipments in particular.
One industry leader said Thursday that, without a clear explanation, Canadian soybean exports to China plunged suddenly from 3.2 million tons over the final four months of 2018 to just 3,700 tons through the first four months of this year.
Relations between Canada and China have deteriorated since the December arrest in Vancouver of Huawei senior executive Meng Wanzhou at the behest of the United States.
China was outraged by Meng’s arrest and has since detained two Canadians on allegations of espionage and sentenced two other Canadians to death for drug-related convictions.
Chinese authorities have also blocked imports of Canadian canola seeds, alleging they found pests in shipments, and have increased inspections and paperwork related to pork.
“When it comes to China, obviously, our top concern is the release of Canadians who are detained in an arbitrary way by the Chinese for political reasons,” Trudeau said in French on Thursday during a visit to France, where he marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day. “We are also concerned by their actions on canola and the potential of other actions on other products.”
Trudeau told reporters that he will see if it’s “appropriate or desirable” to have a conversation directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping about a number of bilateral difficulties later this month at the G20 summit in Japan.
Later Thursday, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau told a parliamentary committee that she’s heard concerns about shipments of Canadian soybeans to China.
Ron Davidson, executive director of Soy Canada, said in an interview that China’s purchases of Canadian soybeans collapsed at the end of last year following a run of very strong exports.
“It’s not a slowdown — it’s a virtual halt,” said Davidson, whose members have reported the drop to Bibeau. “We can see what’s happening, but we aren’t certain why.”
He said it’s not unusual to see soybean exports decrease during winter months, but the speed, magnitude and timing of the crash this time around has alarmed the industry.
Davidson said he’s received reports of Canadian soybean containers held up in Chinese ports for longer than usual as authorities there conduct additional tests. It’s possible, he added, that the drop is partly due to an increased reliance by China on soybeans from other parts of the world.
Soybeans are Canada’s third-most valuable agricultural export after canola and wheat, he said.
Any prolonged crackdown by Canada’s second-biggest trading partner on shipments of key products like soybeans and canola could deliver a blow to the national economy.
New data released Thursday from Statistics Canada showed overall exports of canola fell 14.7 per cent in April after China started turning away Canadian canola seed.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s spokesman said it’s not enough for Trudeau to be concerned because he’s not a casual observer when it comes to the dispute with China.
“He needs to actually do something,” Brock Harrison wrote in an email Thursday.
“Mr. Scheer has on several occasions urged him to take concrete steps to respond to China’s actions against Canada and send a message that Canada won’t be pushed around. He has refused to act.”
The federal government says it has tried unsuccessfully to send a delegation of inspectors to China to examine Chinese evidence of pests in canola shipments. Canada has also been unable to schedule high-level engagements on the matter despite multiple efforts.
Bibeau told MPs Thursday that Canadian scientists finally had a conversation Wednesday night with Chinese customs officials about their canola concerns.
“They agreed to have more sustained discussions, telephone conferences on the subject — and they did not close the door to the delegation,” she said. “We are still asking for that, but the conversation has been re-activated and yesterday we could feel that we were at a different level … This is encouraging.”
Earlier this week, China’s ambassador to Canada said in an interview that Chinese officials investigated Canadian canola based on regulatory and scientific principles, and provided “concrete” documents to Canada to justify their concerns.
Lu Shaye added that the relevant Chinese departments no longer maintained contact with their Canadian counterparts, suggesting the matter was closed.
—Follow @AndyBlatchford on Twitter
Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press
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