By Rod Nickel and David Ljunggren
WINNIPEG, Manitoba/OTTAWA (Reuters) - China has suspended pork imports from two Canadian companies, according to an interview with Canada's agricultural minister and a Chinese customs document, marking the latest irritant in a widening diplomatic dispute.
Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said in an interview with Reuters on Wednesday that she has not yet received an official notice from China of the permit suspensions, and would not identify the companies involved.
"We have to look into this," she said by phone from Ottawa. "It might be only administrative. We might be able to deal with the situation easily. I can't speculate on why the permits have been suspended."
However, a document posted to the website of China's General Administration of Customs dated April 30 and reviewed by Reuters on Thursday said that imports from Canadian meat producers Olymel LP and Drummond Export have been suspended.
"(China) will suspend imports of pork products shipped since April 30 by Canadian companies with codes 270A and 254," the document said, without providing further details.
According to China's Certification and Accreditation Administration, 270A and 254 are the codes for Olymel LP and Drummond Export. China's government offices are closed for the Labour Day holiday until May 5.
Olymel LP spokesman Richard Vigneault confirmed on Wednesday that the company's plant in Red Deer, Alberta, has been unlisted for exporting pork to China. He said he did not know the reason behind China's action.
Drummond could not be immediately reached after business hours.
Canada-China ties turned icy last December when police in Vancouver arrested Huawei Technologies Co Ltd Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. warrant.
Since then, China has arrested two Canadians and halted canola imports from two Canadian companies.
Last week, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said some Canadian pork shipments to China had been delayed because exporters used outdated forms that certify the cargoes meet Chinese requirements.
The permit suspensions are also due to paperwork problems, although not the same issue as before, according to Gary Stordy, spokesman for the Canadian Pork Council, which represents Canadian hog farmers.
Both Olymel and Drummond are based in the Canadian province of Quebec. Olymel employs 13,000 workers and exports pork and poultry products to over 65 countries, according to its website. Drummond was founded in 1984 and exports to more than 30 countries, employing workers from more than 130 local families, its website said.
Canada, the world's third-largest pork exporter, has shipped more pork this year to China, where the domestic pig herd has been ravaged by African swine fever (ASF). China bought C$514 million ($382.5 million) worth of Canadian pork in 2018.
"With African swine fever, and the fact (the Chinese) are very big consumers of pork and here in Canada we are free from ASF, it’s surprising that this is happening," Bibeau said.
China is the largest global producer and consumer of pork.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Canadian government offered financial assistance to canola farmers who have been hit by a Chinese ban on imports and said it was looking to diversify into other markets.
($1 = 1.3438 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in WINNIPEG, Manitoba, and David Ljunggren in OTTAWA, Judy Hua and Roxanne Liu in BEIJING; editing by Diane Craft, G Crosse and Christian Schmollinger)