BEIJING (AP) — China is blocking some imports of the agricultural product canola from Canada due to fears of insect infestation, the foreign ministry said Wednesday.
The move comes amid a conflict between the countries over Canada's arrest of a Chinese technology company executive and is seen by some as a new tactic to achieve leverage over Ottawa.
China acted to suspend canola imports from a Canadian company "in accordance with laws and regulations and international practice," Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a daily news briefing.
Lu cited "harmful organisms" he did not further identify as a threat. He said China's government "needs to protect the health and safety of its own people."
"I can tell you responsibly that the Chinese government's decision is definitely well-founded. Upon verification, China customs has recently detected dangerous pests in canola imported from Canada many times," Lu said.
One of Canada's largest grain processors, Richardson International Ltd., said Tuesday that China had revoked its permit to export canola there.
Some saw that as retaliation for Canada's arrest of a top executive for the Chinese tech giant Huawei.
Canada is proceeding with an extradition hearing for Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who is the daughter of Huawei's founder. She was arrested by Canada at the request of the U.S., where she is wanted on fraud charges for allegedly misleading banks about the company's dealings with Iran.
China has a history of using trade measures to retaliate over perceived political slights. It suspended its bilateral trade deal with Norway and restricted imports of Norwegian salmon after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Chinese political prisoner Liu Xiaobo in 2010.
Britain and other countries were also retaliated against over meetings with the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, considered a dangerous separatist by Beijing.
Canadian Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said in a statement that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency conducted investigations after China issued notices of non-compliance on canola seed imports, including nine since January. She said the agency had not identified any pests or bacteria of concern.
China receives about 40 percent of Canada's canola exports, and the revocation of Richardson's permit hurts the entire value chain of industries involved in the market, the Canola Council of Canada has said.
Canola prices already have been hit by China's retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agricultural exports. Further cutbacks on Chinese buying would deal a major blow to what is a lifeline for agriculture in western Canada.
"We are working very, very hard with the Chinese government on this issue," Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Tuesday.
China has warned of serious consequences if the Huawei executive is not released. China arrested two Canadians on Dec. 10 in what was widely seen as an attempt to pressure Canada.
After Meng's arrest, a Chinese court also sentenced a Canadian to death in a sudden retrial, overturning a 15-year prison term handed down earlier.