Trade Feud between Canada and China Ignites, Trapping Farmers in the Middle
Canola oil is not often considered to be a precious resource and is rarely fought over by communities outside of the cooking industry, but in recent days canola has become a major sticking point in Chinese-Canadian relations.
The tensions began in late March, when the Chinese government banned a major Canadian Canola distributor, Richardson International, from selling its products in China. Soon after, another company, Viterra, also had its sales license revoked by Chinese governmental authorities. The banning of imports from these two large firms, along with those of many smaller ones, has all but put a stop to Canada’s canola trade with China, which makes roughly 2.7 billion dollars annually.
The Chinese government has insisted that it has halted the importation of Canadian canola out of fear that shipments may contain pests and bacteria. Geng Shuang, the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman issued a press release, stating, “I want to stress that the Chinese side has taken these precautionary quarantine measures to ensure safety. These measures are scientifically-sound and reasonable that comply with the relevant Chinese laws and regulations and international practices.”
However, Canadian politicians, as well as market experts, were quick to dispute the assertion of contaminated food. Most argued that China was using canola shipments as a tool to put pressure on Canada for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. Through these economic measures, China has the ability to unofficially damage the economy of Canada while facing little in terms of diplomatic consequences, consequently hurting thousands of local Canadian farmers who are now being forced to sell their crops for less.
This is not the first time the Chinese have prevented imports to put pressure on a foreign nation. Norwegian salmon markets were restricted in 2010 when Norway awarded a Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo. Just recently, China also took measures against Australia, significantly lessening the amount of Australian Coal it purchases in retaliation for Australia's refusal to allow Huawei to set up 5g networks in their Country.
The canola oil bans, along with other recent developments, indicate that China is seeking to expand its economic aggression against Canada. In recent days, Canadian soybean and pea imports have both faced inexplicable delays, and buyers are canceling their orders. Inspection times have moved from a few days to a few weeks, which have had a serious effect on Canadian profits in these areas.
The Canadian government has yet to officially announce a plan to respond to the latest Chinese actions against Canada’s agricultural sector. However, in a recent press conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “in the coming days we will absolutely be doing more about the canola file” and that, “we are going to continue to focus on standing up for our farmers, protecting our canola producers, and other agricultural industries.” How and when that protection will be realized is unknown, but will certainly come as a welcome relief for those who have been affected by this agricultural trade dispute.