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Stick to science in canola trade dispute, Canada minister tells China

OTTAWA - Canada is urging Beijing to stick to scientific facts in its plan to toughen standards on canola shipments, Canadian Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay said on Thursday, as China seeks to slow imports in a dispute about the blackleg ...

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OTTAWA - Canada is urging Beijing to stick to scientific facts in its plan to toughen standards on canola shipments, Canadian Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay said on Thursday, as China seeks to slow imports in a dispute about the blackleg fungus.

China's quarantine authority, AQSIQ, notified the Canadian Food Inspection Agency last month that it would allow no more than 1 percent of foreign material, such as straw and seeds from other plants, in canola shipments starting April 1. The current allowable range is 2 percent to 2.5 percent.

The blackleg fungus, which is common in Canada, can significantly reduce crop yields, and China has raised concerns since 2009 about the risk of it spreading to the country through imports.

Exporters said the new standard by Canada's biggest canola export market would be difficult and costly to meet.

"I understand fully. It's worth C$2 billion ($1.49 billion)in canola trade to China," MacAulay told Reuters. "All our trading partners, we want to make sure the decisions they make are science-based decisions. Hopefully, it will be resolved."

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Industry group Canola Council of Canada has said that the dispute stemmed from differing views about the risk of transmitting to Chinese fields blackleg through foreign material. Some traders in both countries said the real issue was that China had ample stocks of rapeseed oil and wanted to slow imports.

The countries have collaborated on research into blackleg for years, after China raised its concerns in 2009.

A spokesperson at the Chinese embassy in Ottawa could not be reached for comment.

Communication between the governments has been handled by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and AQSIQ officials, MacAulay said, adding that no Canadian minister has discussed the issue with a Chinese counterpart.

"I would think it would be up to Minister MacAulay to get on the phone or work with the ambassador, or something," said Conservative Opposition legislator Gerry Ritz, who was the previous agriculture minister for eight years. "I just find that ridiculous."

Ritz said China had in the past limited imports through such measures when it had large supplies.

Canola, also known as rapeseed, is crushed mainly to produce vegetable oil. Canada is the world's biggest canola exporter.

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