Australia says China has lifted restrictions on meat imports from 3 abattoirs

CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australia’s trade and agriculture ministers said on Tuesday that China had lifted restrictions on imports of meat from three large abattoirs in Australia, in the latest sign of improving relations between the two countries.

China blocked imports of Australian commodities including coal, timber and barley after Australia called for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 in 2020.

Most of these restrictions have been removed since a change of government in Canberra last year.

China is the biggest overseas buyer of Australian lamb and mutton and the fourth-biggest buyer of its beef.

While trade in other commodities collapsed due to tariffs or other trade barriers, many Australian abattoirs could still ship to China and export volumes were little changed in recent years.

The trade and agriculture ministers said China’s Customs agency had announced the lifting of restrictions overnight.

Reuters could not immediately reach Chinese Customs for comment. A list of meat exporters approved to export to China on the Customs website still showed the three Australian firms as suspended.

Restrictions were imposed on the three abattoirs in 2020 and 2022 after cases of COVID-19 among their workers.

Eight other Australian meat producers remain suspended. These have been banned due to what China says are issues over labelling or contamination.

The three facilities for whom restrictions have been lifted are run by Teys at Naracoorte, Australian Lamb Company at Colac and JBS at Brooklyn, the Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) said. Australian Lamb Company is owned by Brazilian firm Minerva.

Teys, JBS and Minerva did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The ministers said these three facilities could ship goods to China from Dec. 11 “pending final administrative processes required by each side.”

“This is another positive step towards the stabilisation of our relationship with China,” Trade Minister Don Farrell said, adding that the government would “keep pressing for the remaining trade impediments to be removed as soon as possible.”

China imported more than $1 billion worth of lamb and mutton last year and $270 million worth of beef.

“This is very welcome news for Australian farmers and meat processors,” Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said.

(Reporting by Peter Hobson in Canberra; Additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Sonali Paul and Stephen Coates)