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Exclusive - Canada farm minister informed that China has blocked two Canadian pork exporters

By Rod Nickel and David Ljunggren

WINNIPEG, Manitoba/OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's agriculture minister said on Wednesday that her department officials have told her the Chinese government has suspended the export permits of two Canadian pork exporters.

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said in an interview with Reuters that she has not yet received an official notice from China of the permit suspensions, and would not identify the companies involved. She said both pork producers are based in the country's eastern province of Quebec.

"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."

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.

Bibeau said she did not know when the pork permit suspensions took effect.

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the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said some Canadian pork shipments to China had been delayed because exporters used outdated forms that certify the cargoes meet Chinese requirements.

Officials with the Canadian Pork Council, which represents Canadian hog farmers, said they were not aware of permits being suspended.

The largest pork exporter in Quebec, Olymel, did not respond to requests for comment.

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.

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; editing by Diane Craft and G Crosse)