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Canada launches probe into false documents as China halts imports of meat

International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr says Canada has launched an investigation into forged export certificates as China has suspended all meat imports.

Speaking to reporters in Toronto, Carr said the government is trying to get answers as quickly as possible, and said incidents involving forged documents are not unprecedented, but are “rare.” He said the government learned of the situation 10 days ago.

“Somebody is trying to use the Canadian brand to move product into the Chinese market,” Carr said after addressing the Canada-India Business Council.

“We’re in close touch with the industry, with Chinese counterparts, with provincial officials. There’s an investigation going forward, and we’re taking it seriously and working very hard to get to the bottom of it.”

The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa said in a statement Tuesday that Chinese customs inspectors detected residue from a restricted feed additive called ractopamine in a batch of Canadian pork products, prompting the suspension of imports. The additive is permitted in Canada, but banned in China.

Carr said it’s too early to determine whether the industry will need supports and the government’s primary goal is to find a quick resolution.

Carr said there is no known link between the import suspension and escalating tensions with China over the extradition of executive of tech giant Huawei. On Wednesday, China renewed its demand to release Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of the technology company’s founder.

China demands Meng’s release

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told reporters at a daily briefing Wednesday that Canada should “take seriously China’s concerns” and immediately release her.

Meng was arrested Dec. 1 in Canada at the request of U.S. authorities, who want to try her on fraud charges. She resides under house arrest in one of her mansions in Vancouver.

Days after Meng’s arrest, China responded by detaining two Canadians and sentenced another to death in an apparent attempt to pressure for Meng’s release.

Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor have been accused of conspiring together to steal state secrets. No evidence has been provided and they have not been allowed access to family members or lawyers while remaining in custody.

The latest action against Canada comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heads to Japan for the G20 summit later this week. U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to meet with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, at the summit amid the ongoing tariff war between the world’s two largest economies.

Meng’s arrest set off a diplomatic furor among the three countries, severely damaging Beijing’s relations with Ottawa. The Chinese have refused to talk to senior Canadian government officials, including Trudeau and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Canola shipments banned by China

Before acting against Canadian meat, China previously stopped importing certain Canadian products like canola.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) called the import suspension “unfortunate” and questioned why beef imports were halted, given the falsified certificate was for pork.

Shipments of Canadian beef to China represented 2.6 per cent of the country’s total beef exports last year, and the CCA urged the Canadian and Chinese governments to find a solution so exports can quickly resume.

“We are fully confident in our meat production systems in Canada and the safeguards we have in place,” said CCA vice-president Bob Lowe in a statement.

“We will work closely with the government of Canada to identify a solution to the suspension from China, while at the same time we will continue to work on expanding other export markets.”

Canada rallies international support

A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canada has “very carefully and intentionally abided by its extradition treaty commitments, in accordance with the rule of law” in the Meng case.

“There has been no political interference in this case. It has been entirely about officials taking decisions according to Canada’s commitments,” Adam Austen said in an email.

“When it comes to China, our government’s priority is the welfare of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who have been arbitrarily detained. We have rallied an unprecedented number of partners around in the world in support of Canada’s position.”

Last week, Trudeau discussed these cases with Trump during the prime minister’s visit to Washington ahead of the G20.

Austen also noted NATO, Australia, the European Union, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Spain, Denmark, the United States, and 140 scholars and former diplomats have all spoken out in support of releasing Kovrig and Spavor.

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