OTTAWA — The Chinese government has removed a months-long ban on Canadian pork and beef products that hit farmers hard when it arrived in the midst of a broader diplomatic feud between the two countries.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau applauded the development Tuesday, calling it “good news” for producers.

China suspended the meat imports in June after reporting that its customs inspectors detected residue from a restricted feed additive in a batch of Canadian pork products. A subsequent investigation found forged veterinary health certificates attached to the shipment, which led to an RCMP investigation.

In September, the Canadian Meat Council added up the financial cost of the suspension to Canadian industry, pegging it at close to $100 million.

“Our long-standing trade relationship with China is very important to both sides and this represents an important step for both countries,” Chris White, president of the Canadian Meat Council, said Tuesday in a statement.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association thanked Canada and China for resolving the issue.

Beijing’s rejection of Canadian meat products landed at a challenging time in Canada’s relationship with its second-biggest trading partner.

Bilateral tensions have intensified since last December’s arrest of Huawei senior executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on an extradition request from the United States — a move that has angered the Chinese government.

In the days that followed, China detained two Canadians — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — on espionage allegations. They remain behind bars and their detention is widely considered retaliation for Meng’s arrest.

Both White and Trudeau extended particular thanks to Canada’s new ambassador to China, Dominic Barton. The former global managing director of consulting firm McKinsey & Co. was named envoy to Beijing in September.

Until then, the post had been vacant for more than half a year after Trudeau fired Barton’s predecessor, John McCallum.

Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian envoy to Beijing, said Tuesday in an interview that having an ambassador back in China has likely been helpful.

But he noted that an outbreak of African swine fever in China, which has significantly cut down the domestic pork supply, has also been putting intense pressure on the Asian country to find other sources of its primary protein.

“I would say today’s news is good news — but it’s not time to open a bottle of champagne,” said Saint-Jacques, adding that Beijing has warned the relationship won’t get back to normal until Meng is returned to China.

“We have to brace ourselves for what could be a long period of turbulence because I expect that Ms. Meng will be (spending) many years in Vancouver.” 

Diplomatic relations have been tense since arrest of Meng, who is chief financial officer of the telecom giant and daughter of founder Ren Zhengfei. Meng, whose extradition trial begins in January, was detained at the request of the U.S. over allegations of violating sanctions on Iran.

Experts predict her extradition process could to take years.

Since taking on his new role, Barton has met with both Kovrig and Spavor in China.

Beijing’s own new ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, also took up his new duties in September.

China has also rejected key shipments of other Canadian agricultural products, including some exports of canola seed following Chinese allegations of contamination.

The New Democrats urged Trudeau to compensate any farmers affected by the dispute for their losses.

“We are, of course, glad that this terrible situation has been fixed but Canada’s producers should not have to keep paying the price for the Liberals’ failures on the world stage,” NDP MP-elect Alistair MacGregor said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Nov. 5, 2019.

Andy Blatchford and Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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