News

Chinese embassy claims no knowledge of fertiliser shipment 

By Buddhika Samaraweera 

The Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka, commenting on the controversial stock of organic fertiliser manufactured by the China-based Qingdao Seawin Biotech Company, which has arrived in the close seas of Sri Lanka in the ship “Hippo Spirit”, stated that the Embassy has no information regarding the matter, and that it was a commercial arrangement.

When contacted by The Morning, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy, which, on an earlier occasion, claimed that the decision to suspend the import of organic fertiliser from aforesaid company to Sri Lanka is problematic, said that the Embassy has no information regarding the matter. “I have no information about it. It is just a commercial arrangement and the Embassy has no information,” the spokesman stated. 

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Agriculture emphasised that the stock of organic fertiliser in the ship will not be allowed to be unloaded in the country.

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

However, it was reported that said ship, carrying 20,000 metric tonnes (MT) of organic fertiliser from China, had informed certain local authorities that it would arrive at the Colombo Port last Friday (22).

Accordingly, when contacted by The Morning, the Agriculture Ministry Secretary, Prof. Udith K. Jayasinghe said that he is not aware as to whether the ship has arrived in the close seas of Sri Lanka. However, he said that the fertiliser stock will not be allowed to be unloaded in the country. 

“Whether it has arrived or not, we have clearly asked not to unload it. The arrival of a ship does not come under me or the Director General (DG) of the Department of Agriculture, but if any ship brings unwanted things for agriculture 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.

Prof. Jayasinghe further said that the Agriculture DG Dr. Ajantha de Silva has sent a letter to the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) through which the SLPA was informed not to allow the said consignment of fertiliser to be unloaded. “Dr. de Silva has issued a very clear letter and it was accepted by the SLPA,” stated Prof. Jayasinghe.  

Speaking further, he went on to say that “this has been dealt with by the NPQS, the Agriculture DG, the Promoting the Production and Regulating the Supply of Organic Fertiliser, and Paddy and Grains, Organic Foods, Vegetables, Fruits, Chilies, Onion and Potato Cultivation Promoting, Seed Production and Advanced Technology Agriculture State Ministry Secretary Nihal Ranasinghe, and myself. If any fertiliser meets the prescribed standards set out by the relevant authorities, then we have no issue, but these fertilisers were not in accordance with such standards due to which we have made it clear that they should not be brought into the country”. 

When asked as to whether the relevant communications, to the effect that these fertilisers will not be accepted, have been made to the relevant institutions, Prof. Jayasinghe said that the NPQS Director had issued a letter requesting the relevant port in China not to release this ship.

 “For a cargo like this to depart a country, it should be accepted by another country. When we have asked not to bring it, even they cannot bring it free. We are not going to buy this for sure, because we don’t want to pay for some waste. Even if it is free, we don’t want it. I still cannot understand as to why this ship is coming with such a load, and what is the purpose,” he mentioned. 

In response to a question as to whether Sri Lanka would have to pay any compensation to said Chinese company in the event of this ship having to be sent back, he said: “No. Why should we pay? If somebody drops something at your home without asking and if you do not need it, are you going to pay for it? When the relevant standards are not met, this cannot be considered a fertiliser.”  

He also said that this was not an issue between the two Governments of China and Sri Lanka and that it was a commercial issue. 

Meanwhile, when contacted by The Morning, the local agent of the Chinese fertiliser company said that they were not even aware that the ship was arriving in Sri Lanka. “We are not aware of this. The relevant agencies had clearly stated that the fertiliser of that company was not up to the required standards. In such a situation, it is not possible for us to imagine why this stock of fertiliser has departed,” he said. 

The Colombo Port Harbour Master had last Saturday (23) told the media that he was unaware of the said ship’s whereabouts, but had issued instructions to prevent it from entering the harbour.

Furthermore, when contacted last evening, the Ports and Shipping Ministry Secretary U.D.C. Jayalal confirmed to The Morning that the ship had not entered the port, and that the Port Master had instructed the relevant parties to prevent it from entering. 

Meanwhile, the Ceylon Fertiliser Company Ltd. has, last Friday (22), obtained an enjoining order from the Commercial High Court against the Qingdao Seawin Biotech, its local agent and the state owned People’s Bank, the President’s Media Division (PMD) announced.

The enjoining order has prevented the People’s Bank from making any payment under a Letter of Credit (LC) opened in favour of the relevant Chinese company. The enjoining order has also been issued preventing the Chinese company and its local agent from receiving any payment under the LC. 

The Court was informed that even though the Chinese company was required to ship sterile organic fertiliser under the tender contract, it had admitted in its shipping advice that the consignment may contain microorganisms. 

Since the mandatory tests carried out by several local institutions, namely the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), the NPQS, and the Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Board (SLAEB), on initial samples of organic fertiliser from aforesaid Chinese company in question had failed, it was recently revealed that another set of samples were to be given to the local testing agencies. However, Dr. de Silva recently told the media that tests carried out on said samples have once again confirmed the presence of harmful bacteria. 

Accordingly, Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage, on 29 September, told media that a decision was taken not to import organic fertiliser from the relevant Chinese company due to laboratory tests that revealed that the samples contained harmful bacteria. 

Soon after the decision to suspend import organic fertiliser from the Chinese company in question was made, the Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka, in a statement in early this month, claimed that the decision to suspend the import of organic fertiliser from said company to Sri Lanka is problematic. 

However, local testing agencies have denied the Embassy’s claims and emphasised that as per international agreements, one country should respect the other country’s test reports and their test results with regard to the phytosanitary matters.

Sources within said institution told The Morning on 11 October that as per the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), World Trade Organisation (WTO) Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreements, and related guidelines, any country has authority to set their own phytosanitary conditions to be fulfilled by the exporting country. They also mentioned that there was enough room for Chinese quarantine authorities to discuss the matter with Sri Lankan quarantine authorities in technical and scientific ways. 

The Government of Sri Lanka has also recently stated that the problematic situation which has arisen with the decision to suspend the import of organic fertiliser from the relevant Chinese company should not be considered a diplomatic issue.