Chinese company’s $ 8 m demand: Plant Quarantine Service to consult authorities 

  • Advice from Agriculture Secy. and DG; AG’s advice if necessary 
  • Remains fully confident in test results 
  • Chinese Embassy reiterates matter strictly ‘commercial’ 

BY Buddhika Samaraweera

The National Plant Quarantine Service (NPQS) would take necessary steps regarding the Letter of Demand (LoD) which is said to have been sent to the NPQS by Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co. Ltd., after obtaining the advice of the Agriculture Ministry Secretary Prof. Udith K. Jayasinghe-Mudalige and the Agriculture Director General Dr. Ajantha de Silva.

When contacted by The Morning, NPQS Additional Director Dr. W.A. Raveen Thushara Wickramaarachchi said that the NPQS would inform Prof. Jayasinghe-Mudalige and Dr. de Silva regarding the matter. He further said that Attorney General (AG) President’s Counsel Sanjay Rajaratnam would also be consulted if needed. 

However, he said that he had, as of last afternoon (8), not received the said LoD from the particular Chinese company. 

It was reported this weekend that the Chinese company, which is the manufacturer of the controversial stock of organic fertiliser which has arrived in Sri Lankan seas in the “Hippo Spirit” ship, has sent a LoD seeking a sum of $ 8 million in damages from the NPQS. The NPQS recently revealed that the fertiliser samples from the said company were found to contain harmful bacteria following tests carried out on them by the NPQS on two occasions. 

Further emphasising that the testing of the fertiliser samples from the aforesaid company was carried out by the NPQS in accordance with the rules and regulations imposed by the Government of Sri Lanka and the international standards, Dr. Wickramaarachchi said that the NPQS still held its previous stance regarding the test results of the relevant fertiliser samples. “We have done our job very well in accordance with the government regulations and the international standards, so we have no doubt and therefore we hold the same position as before. We are confident about the NPQS test results.” 

The aforesaid Chinese company had sent a LoD seeking $ 8 million in damages from Dr. Wickramaarachchi. In the LoD, sent through its local legal representatives, which was seen by The Morning, Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co. Ltd. had warned that the failure to pay the said sum in three days would result in legal action being taken. 

In the said LoD, the company has claimed that the results set in the NPQS’s reports, in particular, those in the report dated 4 October 2021, are not in compliance or conformity with the International Plant Protection Convention International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures Diagnostic Protocols for Regulated Pests. “The pathogenicity experiment of inspection and the quarantine of harmful microorganisms need to use the Koch hypothesis experiment and healthy plants. In your test reports, carrot slices have been used at 37 Celsius which is unscientific as carrot slices at 37 Celsius will rot with blank control,” it added.

“It is further stated that due to such negligent conduct, incorrect conclusions have been reached and that undue incorrect publicity has been given not only in Sri Lanka, but also the world over that my client’s subject product includes and contains Erwinia which has drastic and dire consequences to my client, its business, and reputation. You should have been aware and could not have been unaware of these facts when realising your reports,” it added.

It also added that due to the NPQS’s negligence, the company has suffered significant loss and damage of a sum of $ 8 million, and continues to suffer further loss and damage due to the loss of reputation and goodwill as well as existing and potential business. 

When contacted by The Morning to query as to whether any harm would be caused to the bilateral relationship between China and Sri Lanka given the problematic situation which has arisen with regard to the relevant Chinese company’s organic fertiliser, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy said that there would be no such harm. “This is a commercial dispute and the relevant parties will work to resolve that. The Chinese Government has no intervention in the matter,” he said.

Attempts to contact Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, Regional Co-operation State Minister Tharaka Balasuriya, and Foreign Ministry Secretary Prof. Jayanath Colombage to inquire about the diplomatic implications of these developments proved futile. 

Following tests carried out by local testing agencies, including the NPQS, on the second set of samples of organic fertiliser made in China that have confirmed the presence of harmful bacteria in the said samples, the Agriculture Ministry recently decided not to import organic fertiliser from the said company.

In this backdrop, the “Hippo Spirit” vessel, carrying 20,000 metric tonnes (MT) of organic fertiliser from China had arrived close to the seas of Sri Lanka late last month. Reportedly, the ship is still anchored in Sri Lankan seas.

Attempts to contact Agriculture Ministry Secretary Prof. Jayasinghe-Mudalige proved futile. However, Prof. Jayasinghe-Mudalige, on an earlier occasion, told The Morning that they have clearly asked not to unload it. “The arrival of a ship does not come under me or Dr. de Silva, but if any ship brings unwanted things for agricultural purposes which were not permitted by the relevant authorities, or for which the necessary licences have not been issued, we have asked very clearly not to unload them,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Ports and Shipping Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena on Sunday (7) said that the rejected consignment of Chinese organic fertiliser will not be allowed into the country by any means. “By no means will the rejected fertiliser enter the country,” he said.