Concerns ease over pork export licence issue

Two Canadian hog processors lose their export licences to China, but industry confident it wasn’t part of bigger trade dispute

Canada’s hog farmers and the hog industry are hoping they still have access to China’s enormous market.

As of May 6, at 1 p.m., Canadian pork industry insiders expressed cautious optimism that Canadian pork had not joined canola among the products the Chinese were locking out of their market.

“There’s growing speculation that this reaction at the Chinese port was more of a local issue by local officials,” said one pork industry source.

Great concern spread among hog farmers, processors, the meat industry and other industries after it was reported that two Canadian hog processing plants had lost their licences to export pork to China.

One was the large Olymel slaughter plant in Red Deer, which slaughters much of the western prairie pig herd. The other is a smaller plant in Quebec.

The putative reason for the bans was “labelling issues,” which involved inaccurate or missing information on package labels.

“I confirm that our Red Deer plant in Alberta … has been the subject of a temporary suspension of its exports to China,” said Richard Vigneault, a spokesperson for Quebec-based Olymel.

“Olymel management is assessing the situation with the appropriate authorities.”

Initially, there was speculation that the Chinese action was part of an escalating campaign of pressuring Canada to release Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested on a U.S. extradition warrant in December. But there has been no Chinese statement about any general action against Canadian pork.

However, China’s action against Canadian canola has never been officially linked to China’s anger over Wanzhou’s arrest either.

China has claimed the canola bans were provoked by pests found in canola shipments, a claim nobody in the Canadian industry appears to accept.

The pork suspensions apply to individual plants, not entire companies. Federal government authorities and the Canadian embassy in China are working with Chinese officials to assess the situation.

China is both a significant and a promising pork market for China. Canadian shipments grew after the Canadian industry eliminated ractopamine, a growth promoter, while the U.S. industry continued to contain many major users.

The outbreak of African swine fever, which is devastating the domestic Chinese herd, is also a promising development for Canadian producers because China’s pork-eating population faces a collapse of domestic production and a virtual disappearance of “backyard pigs” in many regions of China.

In 2018, the Chinese market was worth $514 million, less than either Japan or the U.S., which each bought more than $1.2 billion in Canadian pork, but double the value of Mexican sales.

In terms of weight, China bought the second-highest amount of pork in 2018, with much of it hard-to-move offal, which has little value in most markets.

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