Red Deer Olymel plant hit by China export permit suspension

Business as usual on Thursday at plant that employs about 1,600

Red Deer’s pork plant has found itself in the middle of an international trade spat.

The plant is one of two hit with an export permit suspension by China.

Olymel LP spokesman Richard Vigneault said Thursday the company is assessing the situation.

“The only thing I can say today is I can confirm that the Red Deer plant has been the object of a temporary suspension for exportation to China,” said Vigneault.

St. Hyacinth, Que.-based Olymel employs about 1,600 people in Red Deer. Hogs from Saskatchewan and Alberta are processed at the plant in Riverside Industrial Park.

Vigneault said it was too early to comment on what may be behind the export issue, or any potential future impact to the Red Deer operations, which are running as usual.

Olymel has invested significantly in its Red Deer operations, most recently a $6.5-million upgrade that is expected to be completed this fall to use carbon dioxide to euthanize the animals, rather than using electric shocks.

Red Deer-Mountain View MP Earl Dreeshen took up the issue during question period at Parliament on Thursday afternoon.

Dreeshen blamed the export issues — including an earlier Chinese ban on canola from some Canadian importers — on Liberal “incompetence and bungling on the world stage.”

Dreeshen called on the government to act quickly.

Federal Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Claude Barbeau repeated her assertions, which she made a number of times earlier, that the export suspension was for “administrative reasons” and was not uncommon in trade between the nations.

“CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) is monitoring the situation and we hope it will be resolved quickly,” she said.

China is one of Canada’s biggest export customers, according to 2018 statistics. About $500 million worth of pork went to China, behind only Japan’s $1.27 billion and America’s $1.25 billion.

Overall, pork exporting is a $3.8-billion industry in Canada.

The Canadian Pork Council says the suspensions appear to stem from a labelling problem and are not tied to any political moves by China.

“From our understanding, what the plants are looking into, it is an exterior labelling problem that they’re going to be fixing,” said council spokesman Gary Stordy.

The suspensions come amid strained relations between the two countries following last December’s arrest in Vancouver of Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. warrant. China has since arrested two Canadians and halted canola imports from two Canadian companies.

With files from The Canadian Press

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