Canada FM decries China halting canola shipments

Ottawa (AFP) –


Ottawa's foreign minister on Tuesday decried Beijing's move to block a major Canadian canola exporter's sales in China, the latest escalation in a burgeoning row between the two countries.

Canada's largest agricultural handler, Winnipeg-based Richardson International, had its license to ship canola to China revoked on March 1, which risks leaving Canadian farmers with a glut on their hands.

"The situation with the Richardson company concerns me greatly," said Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, the daughter of a canola farmer.

"We think that there are no scientific reasons for this action," she added.

Canada exported more than Can$5 billion (US$3.75 billion) worth of canola last year, with almost half of it, or about five million tonnes, going to China, according to industry figures.

Relations between Ottawa and Beijing have been thrown into crisis by the December arrest of Meng Wanzhou -- the chief financial officer of telecoms giant Huawei -- at the request of the United States.

Washington wants to put Meng on trial on fraud charges for allegedly violating Iran sanctions and lying about it to US banks, and the case has become a major headache for Ottawa.

China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor in what observers see as retaliation just days after Canada arrested Meng.

Last week, Canada's justice department formally began the extradition process, saying the evidence against Meng was sufficient to put before a judge.

Meng is scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday to set a start date for the hearings.