The Canadian government is planning to file another request for the World Trade Organization to establish a dispute settlement panel to look at China’s restrictions on Canadian canola seed imports.

China used a procedural tactic to block Canada’s initial appeal for a dispute panel at the WTO Dispute Settlement Body’s monthly meeting on Monday (June 28).

The dispute dates back to March 2019, when China delivered a major blow to the Canadian canola industry by suspending canola seed imports from Richardson International and Viterra. China also implemented enhanced inspections for canola shipments from other Canadian companies — all while claiming unproven concerns about the presence of “hazardous pests” in Canadian canola.

In addition to bilateral efforts involving political leaders and customs authorities at various levels, the Canadian government requested consultations with China through the WTO in September 2019. Those consultations were held — and failed — in October 2019, so it’s unclear why it took nearly two years for Canada’s request for a dispute panel to be brought forward to the Dispute Settlement Body.

The following paragraph is how the WTO Secretariat’s Information and External Relations Division summarized China’s position at the meeting on Monday:

China said it regrets Canada’s request and said it was not in a position to accept the establishment of a panel.  The measures were imposed to the extent necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health and in a transparent and non-discriminatory manner, China said. China has kept in close contact with relevant Canadian authorities on the matter and has responded to requests for information both during and after the consultations. China said it believes it is premature to establish a panel for this dispute and that it is willing to continue engagement with Canada on the matter.

As a result, the Dispute Settlement Body decided to “revert to the matter at a future meeting if requested by a member.”

However, WTO rules say member countries cannot block a second request for a dispute panel. Canada could make its second request at a meeting scheduled for July 26, 2021.

“Canada is confident that our canola seed exports meet China’s import requirements and we are committed to regaining full market access for our canola seed exports to China,” says Alice Hansen, spokesperson for Canada’s trade minister, Mary Ng, in a statement shared with RealAgriculture. “Due to the continued lack of progress in restoring full market access for canola seed exports, Canada has decided to proceed with the next step of the WTO dispute settlement process and has requested the establishment of a panel.”

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