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Cows walk through a field during a cattle drive at a farm in Gunnedah, New South Wales.
Sydney  — 

China has lifted bans on imports from five major Australian beef processing facilities, the Australian government said on Thursday, in the latest sign of improving relations between the two nations.

Beijing has now removed restrictions from eight abattoirs but two remain subject to import bans, the government said.

China imposed the bans between 2020 and 2022, around the same time it barred imports of a swathe of commodities including coal, timber and wine from Australia after Canberra called for an independent investigation into the origin of COVID-19.

The bans applied to certain abattoirs but did not affect others, which meant Australia was still able to ship beef to China.

“It was difficult for those particular abattoirs but we still saw beef flowing,” said Matt Dalgleish, an analyst at agricultural consultants Episode 3.

He said the removal of the restrictions should still boost Australian shipments to China, which have already risen to their highest level since 2020 as a shrinking cattle herd in the United States, Australia’s main competitor, reduces US exports.

Lower US supply may have been one reason for China’s action, Dalgleish said.

China was Australia’s second-biggest beef export market last year, receiving 240,000 tons worth around $1.6 billion, Australian trade data shows.

Beijing has lifted most of the barriers it imposed on Australian goods since a change of government in Canberra two years ago. A ban on imports of Australian lobsters remains in place.

“We continue to press China to remove the remaining trade impediments, including for Australia’s rock lobster industry,” Australian foreign minister Penny Wong, trade minister Don Farrell and agriculture minister Murray Watt said in a joint statement.

They said China’s trade impediments at their height impacted Australian exports worth 20.6 billion Australian dollars ($13.6 billion).

The reasons China gave for suspending the Australian beef processors were issues over labeling or contamination or cases of COVID-19 among their workers.