Last week Chinese importers started demanding signed declarations from Canadian exporters that live and processed lobster is free of COVID-19 before it can enter China, Canada's second largest market, reports CBC News.

Canadian exporters must also assume liability if the disease is then detected in China.

The stipulation has alarmed shippers such as Osborne Burke of Victoria Co-op Fisheries, a Cape Breton company that ships frozen lobster to China.

"Absolutely under no condition would we sign anything," he told the news outlet.

Burke, who is also president of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance, does not recommend members sign anything either.

He said a law firm is drafting a document lobster shippers will send to customers in China that asserts the safety of the product without assuming liability.

On Friday, the province of Nova Scotia asked Global Affairs Canada whether shippers should sign the declaration. Most Canadian lobster sent to China comes from Nova Scotia.

In an email obtained by CBC News that was sent to a provincial official, Callie Stewart of Global Affairs Canada did not provide guidance.

"At the moment, as the request came directly to the industry from industry, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (who are the government of Canada lead on this) have left it to the discretion of the Associations/Exporters to decide if they want to sign them or not. We are aware some Associations have already signed them," she wrote.

In 2019, sales of live lobster alone from Canada to China were worth CAD 457 million (€298.9 million/$338.6 million), with most of that coming from Nova Scotia.

Another blow

The demand for a COVID-19 liability declaration is the second border impediment to emerge in China in June.

Sales were rebounding after the market collapse in February 2020 because of the pandemic.

But after a COVID-19 outbreak this month was traced to a cutting board for Atlantic salmon at a food market in Beijing, Chinese authorities responded by greatly increasing random testing of imported seafood.

That forced Nova Scotia shippers of live lobster to cancel air cargo shipments rather than risk having live lobster wait for up to 36 hours for test results.