China and Sri Lanka have been involved in a rare diplomatic fight over a shipment of organic fertilizer that Colombo refused to accept, citing quality problems. In an attempt to make Sri Lanka the world’s first fully organic agricultural nation, Colombo struck a deal with the Qingdao Seawin Bio-tech group, a Chinese company specializing in seaweed-based fertilizers. But Sri Lanka’s decision to reject the first shipment of 20,000 tonnes of organic fertilizers has sparked diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
The National Plant Quarantine Service, an agency of the Sri Lankan government, rejected the shipment saying that a sample of the cargo contained pathogens that can cause crop failure. Dr Ajantha De Silva, director general of the Sri Lankan Department of Agriculture, said tests on the load samples showed that the fertilizer was not “sterile”, the BBC reported.
“We have identified bacteria that are harmful to plants like carrots and potatoes,” the BBC quoted De Silva as saying.
As the shipment was not allowed to be unloaded in Sri Lanka, a state fertilizer company obtained a court order to prevent the state People’s Bank from paying $ 9 million for the cargo. While it is unclear whether the terms of the contract allowed the buyer to suspend payment, the Chinese embassy in Colombo retaliated by blacklisting the bank for failing to comply with the payment.
In late October, the official Twitter manager of the Chinese embassy posted a timeline of the events while announcing the blacklisting of the Sri Lankan state bank.
The embassy, however, did not provide details on the quality of the fertilizer and the terms of the contract. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the cargo had already passed third-party testing, adding that “China has always attached great importance to the quality of exports.”
Qingdao Seawin issued a statement accusing Sri Lankan media of using derogatory words to “smear the image of Chinese companies and the Chinese government.” It also demanded compensation of $ 8 million from the NPQ for the loss of reputation it suffered following the controversy.
“The unscientific detection method and the conclusion of the National Plant Quarantine Service (NPQ) in Sri Lanka obviously do not comply with the international animal and plant quarantine convention,” the company said.
While experts are unsure how long Colombo can withstand pressure from Beijing due to its “debt trap” diplomacy, a BBC report Quoting Sri Lankan officials suggest that “no organic fertilizer that violates current regulations will be allowed in the country” despite China’s financial strength.