The Chinese government has lifted its ban on canola imports from two of Canada’s largest exporters, three years after it suspended their licences amid escalating tensions between the two countries, The Globe and Mail reported.

A statement from Global Affairs Canada on 18 May said that China had advised Canada of its decision to reinstate the licences of Viterra and Richardson International, which had been facing a ban since March 2019.

“We welcome this decision to remove the restrictions and immediately reinstate the two companies to allow them to export Canadian canola seeds,” Canadian trade minister Mary Ng and agriculture minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said in the statement. “We will continue to work with Canadian canola farmers, businesses, exporters and their communities to defend their interests and support their success at home and in markets abroad, including China.”

Canada would always uphold the international rules-based trade system and related dispute settlement mechanisms, the statement said.

Prior to the 2019 ban, China – the world’s largest canola importer – had imported US$2.8bn/year of canola from Canada, The Globe and Mail wrote.

The ban was imposed at a time of heightened tensions between China and Canada, the report said. In late 2018, China had denounced Canada for its move to arrest and authorise extradition proceedings against Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou. The move was followed by China’s arrest of two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were accused of espionage-related offences. All three were released last September.

At the time of the initial ban, China cited quality concerns as the reason behind it, claiming its inspectors had found pests in samples. However, the move was widely regarded as retaliation for Canada’s actions against Wanzhou, according to the 18 May report,

China’s lifting of the ban was welcomed by Canola Council of Canada president Jim Everson.

“This is a positive step forward, restoring full trade in canola with China and ensuring that all Canadian exporters are treated equally by the Chinese administration,” he said.

The ban had cost the industry between US$1.5bn and US$2.3bn between March 2019 and August 2020, the trade organisation said.

In late 2019, Canada had taken the case to the World Trade Organization (WTO), requesting a panel to assist in resolving the dispute.

In its submission to the WTO at the time, China said “the measures were imposed to the extent necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health and in a transparent and non-discriminatory manner.”

The WTO set up a dispute resolution panel in 2021.