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Trade war

China lifts ban on Canadian pork and beef exports

Move ends four-month trade dispute that began after Huawei executive's arrest

China's decision to resume pork imports from Canada comes as it grapples with an outbreak of African swine fever at home.   © Reuters

TORONTO (Financial Times) -- China will lift its ban on Canadian pork and beef exports, in a sign that relations between the two countries may be thawing -- although experts cautioned not to read too much into the move.

On Tuesday Justin Trudeau, Canada's prime minister, announced on Twitter: "Good news for Canadian farmers today: Canadian pork and beef exports to China will resume."

Trudeau credited Dominic Barton, the recently appointed Canadian ambassador to China, and the country's meat industry for "reopening this important market for our meat producers and their families."

The policy reversal ends a four-month-long trade dispute with Beijing that many believe stemmed from Canada's arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on U.S. fraud charges. China initiated the restrictions after claiming to have discovered falsified export certificates for Canadian meat.

Since May the value of monthly Canadian meat exports to China has fallen from $125 million to just $400,000 in September, according to export statistics. Before the ban the pork industry alone had been eyeing exports to China of more than $1 billion this year.

Industry officials welcomed the move. "We're pleased by this decision, but we do have work to do to ensure that we can maintain access to China," said Gary Stordy, director of government and corporate affairs at the Canadian Pork Council.

China's decision comes as it grapples with a homegrown pork crisis. The deadly African swine fever hit Chinese pig farms last year and has wiped out as much as half the country's pig population. Despite increased imports from countries such as the U.S., Brazil and Argentina pork prices have still almost doubled, while China still faces massive shortages.

"This move by China is a thawing sort of move, but I don't think we can discount the possibility that China just really needs our pork," said Stephanie Carvin, an international relations expert at Carleton University in Ottawa. "The bee sting is definitely less."

Beijing has yet to lift its restrictions on other Canadian agricultural products, including canola seed and soybeans.

China also continues to detain two Canadians, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor. Their arrests are widely seen as retaliation for Wanzhou's arrest. Kovrig has reportedly been held in a cell with the lights on 24 hours a day, while both men have been refused access to lawyers.

Carvin said a better sign of thawing relations with China "would be a substantial improvement in the conditions of their detention, which amounts to torture in Canada."

It has not helped matters that Canada and China had, until recently, been without envoys to the other's country for several months.

That ended in September when Trudeau appointed Barton as Canada's ambassador to China. The former global managing partner of consulting firm McKinsey filled a role that had been vacant since January when Trudeau fired former Ambassador John McCallum over remarks he had made about the strength of Wanzhou's case against extradition to the U.S. Her extradition hearing is set to begin in January.

Last week China's new ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, presented his credentials to Canada's governor-general.

The trade war and arrests have left many Canadians distrustful of China. On Monday the University of British Columbia released a survey that showed just 29% of Canadians view China favorably, down from 36% two years ago. Half those polled do not want Huawei to be involved in Canada's 5G mobile networks. "The chill is real," the survey said.

Meanwhile, Canadian pork producers are already ramping up to supply the Chinese market. "The last few months created a lot of nervous jitters across the country," said Manitoba pork producer Rick Bergmann. "Now that we're back in the game, we're really excited about getting product back into China."

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