By Jamila Husain
Colombo, November 15 (Daily Mirror): China’s Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group, the fertilizer company caught in a controversy with Sri Lanka’s Agriculture Ministry, has warned that it will lodge a complaint against Sri Lanka at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) if the National Plant Quarantine Service (NPQS) does not rectify its report over the company’s organic fertilizer, which it has called ‘inaccurate’, causing loss of reputation and goodwill.
This matter, which is of national and public interest, is now before the court and the necessary documentation which was shown to Daily Mirror by Qingdao Seawin, has been submitted in the form of evidence for the consideration of court in dealing with the interim injunction issued against the company.
This has been confirmed by the lawyers of the Chinese company.
In an exclusive interview to Daily Mirror, the Vice General Manager and Chief Technology Officer of Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group, Anna Song, said that the organic fertilizer manufactured by the Qingdao Seawin group was supplied to over 56 countries including the USA, UK, Australia and Italy and the local buyer – Ceylon Fertiliser Company (CFC) and Colombo Commercial Fertilisers – had signed a contract with Qingdao Seawin on August 26, after it had won the tender called out by the Agriculture Ministry.
Song said that the tender was called by Sri Lanka at the end of June after which an official from the Sri Lankan government had contacted the Chinese Embassy in Colombo to recommend a supplier of organic fertilizer. The Chinese Embassy had in turn informed China’s Agriculture Ministry which recommended 24 qualified suppliers including Qingdao Seawin.
Meanwhile, Song said that Sri Lanka’s Embassy in China had recommended a local agent for Qingdao Seawin and on July 28, the company submitted the bidding documents for the tender.
Sri Lanka’s Agriculture Ministry shortlisted 5 companies from across the globe including Qingdao Seawin from China and on July 23, the company submitted 500 grams of its fertiliser to the local buyer in Colombo for testing and confirmation.
The CFC, by the end of July, had confirmed they had received the sample and on August 11, Qingdao Seawin was awarded the contract.
“According to international trade practice, after the buyer confirms the sample and accepts it, it is only then that they award the tender. So accordingly on Aug.26, Qingdao Seawin signed a contract with the Sri Lankan buyers to supply 99,000 metric tonnes of our organic fertilizer, which will be broken up in four shipments,” Song said.
Accordingly, the Chinese company prepared 20,000 metric tonnes of its organic fertilizer as part of its first shipment and dispatched it on board the ‘Hippo Spirit’, which to date is docked in the outskirts of the Colombo Port.
Song said that the Sri Lankan buyers had in August requested for more samples to test the fertilizer and a further 10 kgs of the organic fertilizer was sent immediately.
Song alleged that their company was never informed that their sample was rejected.
“Our company has been focusing on organic fertilizer for more than 20 years. So we went with our good quality and complete certificate system. All the certificates were submitted to the Sri Lankan side and we met all the requirements although they were very strict. Time was short and the requirement was high and we completed all the procedures which is why the contract was signed with us by Sri Lanka,” Song said.
However, in early September, the Sri Lankan buyer sent an email to Qingdao Seawin saying their fertilizer had been rejected as it contained harmful bacteria.
“We then had a Zoom meeting with them and explained to them what the nature of organic fertilizer is. That it contains bacteria but not the harmful kind. Actually, the Chinese government encourages farmers and manufacturers to use beneficial bacteria which is very good for the soil and crops as it improves the structure of the soil and releases nitrogen to the soil which is very good,” Song said.
Following this meeting, the Chinese company sent a reply by email as well, explaining this after which Sri Lanka confirmed they had opened an LC.
“Our organic fertilizer does not contain harmful bacteria such as Erwinia as alleged by the NPQS. Our product does not use compost but we use commercial raw materials. Our products are also sterilized in very high temperatures for at least 20 minutes so even if there was harmful bacteria, as alleged by NPQS, it will all be killed,” Song said.
“So we insist our products do not contain Erwinia. This is the first time in our 20 years we have faced these allegations,” Song said.
On September 23, Qingdao Seawin said it had informed CFC that their shipment was on its way, after which CFC had replied saying they had not received the import permit as the samples had been rejected by NPQS.
As a result, Hippo Spirit remained docked in the Singapore port for several days, with Qingdao Seawin awaiting CFC to get the import permit.
“Usually the local buyer has to get the import permit before signing the contract with us,” Song said.
Following the controversy which erupted in Sri Lanka, Song said the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI) nominated German-owned Schutter Global Inspection Lab Co. Ltd. as the third party to test the Chinese organic fertilizer.
The Beijing-based international company dispatched a team to the Qingdao Seawin premises where they studied the sterilization process and obtained samples for testing.
Following their tests, Schutter concluded that the Chinese organic fertilizer did not contain harmful bacteria as alleged by NPQS and submitted its report to the SLSI.
Meanwhile, the NPQS in a written query informed China’s NPQS of the controversy and the harmful bacteria contained in the organic fertilizer. But they were informed in writing by China that
Sri Lanka had tested the fertilizer under wrong temperatures and tested it on potato slices which was wrong.
Song alleged that Sri Lanka had tested it at 37 degrees and on potato slices, whereas the organic fertilizer should be tested at 25 degrees and on a living plant. “The method used by Sri Lanka’s NPQS was unscientific,” Song alleged.
Qingdao Seawin have now demanded that the Additional Director of the NPQS, Dr. W. Wickramaarachchi, accept his mistake and put out an accurate report immediately or face legal action.
Further, Song says, if the company’s name is not cleared from such baseless allegations against their products, they will be compelled to lodge a complaint with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, to which Sri Lanka is also a member.
Song said their battle to clear their name is on and they would not back down till their company is cleared off all allegations.