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Maple Leaf suspends pork exports to China after COVID-19 cases

Voluntary suspension is in line with the Chinese governments new protocols around plant workers testing positive for the virus

Maple Leaf Foods says it has temporarily suspended pork exports to China after a few dozen workers at one of its plants tested positive for COVID-19.

The Mississauga, Ont.-based company said in a statement late Tuesday it continued to have rigorous safety measures at the Brandon, Man., plant to prevent workplace transmission, and the plant continued to operate.

It noted public health officials had said there was no sign the coronavirus had spread in the workplace.

The company said it voluntarily suspended its pork exports to China after the Chinese government adopted new protocols that require Canadian processors who report a positive COVID-19 case to do so.

RBC Dominion Securities analyst Irene Nattel said in a note to clients that the news "is a slight negative" for Maple Leaf.

She said the pork originally intended for export to China can likely be sold domestically or exported elsewhere--though at lower margins--and that price forecasts already assume some coronavirus-related disruptions.

Maple Leaf said it was seeing short-term increases in absenteeism, but believed it was a short-term situation rather than a material financial event.

CEO Michael McCain said the company was confident in its promise to provide customers with safe food.

"But we respect China's new import protocols for Canadian products and are working co-operatively with Canadian and Chinese authorities to resume exports quickly."

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