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Canada is to allow imports of beef from the UK for the first time in nearly two decades.

The Canadian market has been closed to any EU beef, including deboned beef, since 1996, when Canada introduced import restrictions on the basis of BSE concerns.

However, it has now decided to lift the ban for 19 member states, including the UK.

See also: Top 10 targets for beef and sheep exports

The European Commission said the move was an important development, which recognised the robust measures put in place to deal with BSE.

“It will provide a welcome boost to Europe’s beef producers and exporters, and it comes at a time when farmers across the EU are going through a particularly difficult period.

EU countries able to import beef to Canada

Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

“We call on our few remaining international trading partners who still maintain restrictive measures to fully adopt recognised international standards.”

NFU Scotland’s livestock policy manager John Sleigh said it was a step in the right direction, but the hard work had to begin in attracting buyers.

“We need a strong export strategy to ensure we can compete on the shelves in Canada. Nineteen countries have gained access to the Canadian beef market so there are opportunities to collaborate, along with using our strong Scotch Beef brand.”

According to figures from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the country imported about 200,000t of beef in 2014, most of which was supplied by the US.

Canada is itself the world’s eleventh largest producer and seventh largest exporter of beef, suggesting that the opportunities for the UK industry may lie in niche beef products.