By Kelsey Johnson
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Unknown actors are using bogus certificates to smuggle Canadian meat into China, Trade Minister Jim Carr said on Wednesday, a day after Beijing halted beef and pork imports citing falsified paperwork.
China, which has already blocked imports of Canadian canola seed and product from three pork plants, said on Tuesday it wanted Ottawa to halt all meat shipments after “counterfeit” veterinary health documents were discovered. Canadian officials confirmed they had found inauthentic certificates.
“Somebody is trying to use the Canadian brand to move product into the Chinese market,” said Trade Minister Jim Carr, telling reporters the government did not know whether the meat shipments in question had actually come from Canada.
“There’s an investigation going forward and we’re taking it seriously and working very hard to get to the bottom of it because I don’t know why this is happening, in whose interest this could be.”
China suspended exports from Quebec-based pork company Frigo Royal last week after Beijing said residues of the feed additive ractopamine, which makes hogs leaner, had been found. Ractopamine is banned in China. Two other plants lost their permits because of labeling issues.
Manitoba agriculture minister Ralph Eichler told reporters Canada had contacted other Asian markets, including Japan, and had been told there were no issues with meat documents.
China’s move marks the latest escalation in a major trade and diplomatic dispute with Canada that erupted in December after police in Vancouver detained Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, on a U.S. arrest warrant.
Shortly after Meng’s arrest, China detained two Canadians, who have since been charged with espionage.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau left Canada on Wednesday for a Group of 20 leaders meeting in Japan.
U.S. President Donald Trump last week told Trudeau he was prepared to raise the case of the two detained Canadians with Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom he is to meet with on Saturday at the G20 meeting.
“No one is looking to escalate or exacerbate tensions,” Carr said when asked about the dispute.
China bought C$310 million ($235.26 million) worth of Canadian pork from January through April, making it Canada’s third-largest export market by value, according to official data.
Earlier this month, Reuters reported China planned to boost inspections of imported Canadian meats and meat products.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau called the premiers of several Canadian provinces on Tuesday to brief them on the latest development, officials said.
The Chinese embassy in Ottawa released a statement on Tuesday that did not link the latest ban to the Meng case. Asked about possible political motivations, Carr said on Wednesday “no tie has been explicitly made by anybody.”
Diplomats and experts though say there is no doubt China is using the import bans and the arrests in a bid to force Canada to release Meng.
Her lawyers urged Justice Minister David Lametti on Monday to withdraw extradition proceedings against Meng, but received no immediate response.
Lametti was due to meet U.S. Attorney General William Barr in Washington on Wednesday. The Meng case was not on the official agenda, according to a statement from Lametti’s office.
(Writing by David Ljunggren; additional reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg and Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Phil Berlowitz and Chris Reese)