A major Canadian canola exporter has had its registration to ship the oil to China revoked, apparently the latest flare-up in a diplomatic and trade dispute between the two countries.

A Chinese customs document dated March 1 says Winnipeg-based agricultural handler Richardson International has had its registration cancelled, Reuters reported Monday. That means the company is forbidden from exporting canola into the country.

Richardson didn’t reply to a request for comment from CBC News, but a spokesperson for the Canola Council of Canada said, “We look forward to the company involved resolving the current issue.”

Canada exported more than $5 billion worth of canola last year, and almost half of it was destined for the Chinese market, the group said.

Winnipeg-based Richardson International describes itself as “Canada’s largest agribusiness and …  a worldwide handler and merchandiser of all major Canadian-grown grains and oilseeds.”

It s one of the largest single canola exporters in Canada, and “news about blocked exports hurts the whole value chain,” Canola Council communications director Heidi Dancho said.

The move appears to be the latest escalation in a dispute between Canada and China ignited last fall, when Canadian officials detained the vice-president of Chinese technology firm Huawei at the request of U.S. tax authorities as she was boarding a flight in Vancouver. She is now involved in an extradition case and personal litigation against Canadian border officials, the RCMP and the attorney general of Canada.

Two Canadians — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — have since been detained in China, and on Monday the two men were accused of stealing state secrets from China.

Brock University professor Charles Burton, a former Canadian diplomat who served two postings in China, said Beijing was likely to retaliate further, and suggested in an interview with the CBC on Friday that a crackdown on Canadian canola would be one possible tactic it would employ.

“They’re not going to take this lying down,” he said, “one shudders to think what the consequences could be.”

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