Trade committee wants to hear ministers on canola dispute

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and International Trade Minister Jim Carr are headed to the House of Commons international trade committee as Canada remains embroiled in an ongoing dispute with China over canola.

The ministers’ pending testimony comes after opposition MPs requested March 17 that the trade committee be recalled to discuss Canada’s continuing trade dispute over canola with China.

Earlier this month, China announced it had cancelled the canola export permit for Richardson International Ltd., one of this country’s largest canola exporters. The Chinese government has also heightened import inspections on all Canadian canola shipments.

Chinese officials have said the actions were necessary for disease prevention, alleging “hazardous organisms” had been found in a recent Richardson shipment of canola. Canada has firmly refuted the scientific credibility of those claims and has demanded China provide evidence that supports its claims.

On March 17, Conservative MPs estimated the situation had already cost the Canadian canola industry $1 billion in losses, thanks in part to slumping market prices.

China is a major market for Canadian canola exports.

With spring seeding quickly approaching, Conservative MP Randy Hoback, a retired grain farmer, had asked that three ministers be called to testify: Bibeau, Carr and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. The request was backed by the NDP.

Freeland is the daughter of an Alberta canola farmer.

Liberal MPs on the committee agreed the issue was a matter of urgency, telling opposition MPs they were open to hearing from the agriculture minister and the international trade minister during the week of April 1. Each minister would appear separately for one hour of questioning.

Department officials, meanwhile, would brief the committee on the issue during the committee’s meeting on March 21.

The Liberals hold a majority on the committee.

However, the compromise was met with hesitation from opposition MPs, who said they were disappointed Canada’s foreign affairs minister was not being invited.

Canada, Conservative MP and former grain farmer Larry McGuire noted, is currently without an ambassador to China, a situation, he said, leaves Freeland as Canada’s default diplomat in the region.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fired former ambassador John McCallum on Jan. 25 after McCallum waded into a legal case involving senior Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who was detained in Vancouver in December following an extradition request from the United States.

McCallum had suggested to reporters he thought Wanzhou had a strong legal case.

Meanwhile, Hoback stressed he would also like to hear from industry officials directly affected by the dispute, including the Canola Council of Canada.

That request was not included in the Liberal’s motion, which was adopted. As of March 18, it was unclear whether the committee plans to extend the list of witnesses at a later date.

In a March 18 statement, Bibeau and Carr said Canadian officials continue to engage with their Chinese counterparts, noting additional testing by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency had found no pests.

Chinese customs officials had supplied the CFIA with “some initial technical information” late last week, the ministers said. The information had been requested by CFIA officials.

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