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Coronavirus stalls talks with China on canola ban

Officials 'not in position to pursue technical discussions,' Bibeau says

Ottawa | Reuters — The coronavirus outbreak has stalled talks between Canada and China about Beijing’s decision to block Canadian canola seed shipments, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said Friday.

China, angry at Canada’s detention of a top Huawei Technologies executive in December 2018, blocked all imports of canola seed last March on the grounds they contained pests — a claim disputed by Canada. It also arrested two Canadian citizens on security grounds.

Speaking on a teleconference from Washington D.C., Bibeau said the canola trade dispute remained a top priority for Ottawa, but noted Chinese capacity to discuss the issue had been constrained by the coronavirus outbreak.

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“We understand that they (Chinese officials) are not in a position to pursue technical discussions while they are facing such a huge challenge over there with the virus,” she said.

More than 75,400 people in China have been confirmed infected with COVID-19 and 2,236 have died, mostly in central Hubei province and its capital, Wuhan, where the coronavirus first emerged in December.

Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Canada had flown around 350 nationals out of China, thanks to the co-operation of local authorities.

“However, it should not be inferred that Canada’s relationship with China has returned to normal,” he said in a speech in Montreal, adding that his top priority was securing the release of the two detained Canadians.

“Canadians know that our relationship with China remains important in many ways … I believe in dialogue even if it means having difficult conversations. That’s the nature of diplomacy,” he said.

Some 26 countries and territories outside mainland China, including Canada, have confirmed cases of the virus, which has rattled financial markets and prompted governments to evacuate citizens.

— Kelsey Johnson reports on Canadian economic issues for Reuters from Ottawa; additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa.

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