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Trudeau defends quality of farm goods as Canada works to resolve canola trade dispute with China

Canadian farm goods are high quality and safe, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in Beijing on Tuesday as his trade minister said Ottawa was working hard to resolve a canola import dispute that threatens C$2 billion (HK$11.9 billion) in business.

Trudeau is seeking deeper ties with China but the canola spat, government divisions over China policy and the case of a detained citizen could limit his gains.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told Trudeau in their meeting China was willing to cooperate with the new Canadian government to boost ties, and called on the two nations to accommodate each other’s differences, state-run CCTV reported.

China is Canada’s top export market for the oilseed, and Ottawa has taken an increasingly strong line in talks on a new standard, which industry participants say would significantly raise costs for exporters.

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China says the standard is necessary to prevent the spread of blackleg disease from Canadian canola into Chinese crops of rapeseed, another name for the agricultural commodity.

Speaking to Chinese entrepreneurs shortly after landing in Beijing, Trudeau said Canada had always had a reputation as a safe, clean and responsible country.

“In our agriculture, we use high-quality products and we create high-quality products and goods,” Trudeau said, without making direct reference to the canola dispute.

Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters after Trudeau’s speech that Canada had made very clear what a key issue canola was.

“This is a big deal for Canada,” she said. Canola is the country’s second largest trading product with China.

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Canada’s canola farmers are close to harvesting this year’s crop, and Freeland said the government was “working really hard” to keep the China market open and find a resolution.

Chinese officials in Ottawa have said the two countries were involved in “positive consultations” and the issue could be “resolved properly through joint efforts”.

Under the new standard, China would allow no more than 1 per cent of foreign matter per canola shipment, down from the current maximum of 2.5 per cent.

There has been no reply to a request for further information or comment from China’s quarantine authority, the agency that formulated the new standard.

Traders have suggested that China’s real reason for a higher standard is that its domestic rapeseed oil stocks are high. Beijing sold 2.8 million tonnes of rapeseed oil from state reserves in the first half of the year, reducing import demand.

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Trudeau has also said he would raise human rights, an issue of great sensitivity in Beijing.

Ottawa is pressing the case of Canadian citizen Kevin Garratt, who was indicted on charges of spying and stealing state secrets earlier this year.

Xinhua said Canada should not let “groundless concerns” about human rights stand in the way of cooperation.