Canadian attendance at a Chinese seafood trade show next month will be hindered by COVID-19 quarantine requirements, not China's treatment of the two Michaels, says the general manager of Victoria Co-operative Fisheries.
Thirty-three Canadian seafood companies, industry associations and governments are participating in the China Fisheries and Seafood Expo in the port city of Qingdao, north of Shanghai. Most of the Canadian representation will be coming from Chinese representatives.
Nova Scotia shellfish exporter Victoria Co-operative Fisheries will have a booth, but general manager Osborne Burke says the company won't be attending.
"There's too many challenges with it," he said. "And the recommendation from government officials was to look at in-house consultants to represent your company at the show, and that's exactly why we're doing what we're doing. It's the best scenario we can do and still fly the flag for Nova Scotia."
Two federal departments — Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Fisheries and Oceans — are registered for a booth in the Canadian pavilion, as are several provincial governments, including British Columbia, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.
China's treatment of the recently released Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor has not stopped Canada's billion-dollar seafood exports to its second biggest market.
Nor have frosty relations caused by their detention deterred participation in the upcoming Canada Seafood Conference, which is held within the expo, said event organizer Yang Xue of the Atlantic Canada Business Network, based in Bedford, N.S.
British Columbia and Quebec have signed on for the event's second year.
Provincial fisheries ministers — including Nova Scotia's Steve Craig — have provided prerecorded messages for the conference, Xue said. So too have Canadian industry representatives, like Ocean Choice International and the Lobster Council of Canada.
"The event is getting better and better and stronger and is sending a very positive message to the market in promoting our seafood in the right way," said Xue. "That's why the conferences continue to attract more and more provinces and companies to join us."
China has become an increasingly important market for Canada's top seafood exporting province: Nova Scotia.
Shipments of live lobster from Nova Scotia to China were valued at $457 million in 2019.
Trade in multiple species has continued.
Crab and lobster processor Victoria Co-operative has a shipment on a boat heading to China. For Burke, what happened to the Canadian detainees is a fact of life.
"You never know what can happen," he said. "We saw that with the two Michaels is that for any reason, they suddenly decide that they need a token hostage or two, it could happen."
Robet Huish, an international development expert at Dalhousie University, said Burke is right.
The release of the two Michaels after Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou cut a deal with U.S. prosecutors to drop charges against her is proof that China "is not above playing hostage diplomacy and anyone is fair game," he said.
Seafood vulnerable to Chinese agenda, says prof
Huish said Atlantic Canadian seafood could be easily thrown overboard by China if it suits China's interest.
"Atlantic Canadian seafood is still a luxury in China and one with a very limited market when you look at the whole population," he said.
"They are looking to cut carbon emissions as a country and an easy way to do that would be to cancel orders for airplanes full of live lobster."
Nova Scotia's Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture said it had no one available to provide comment to CBC News.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada said Wednesday in a statement that it is not participating in the expo but rather acting primarily as an organizer co-ordinating the participation of provinces, industry associations and individual companies.
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