Canada and the United States have announced a new agreement that would allow them to continue trading pigs and pork products in the event African swine fever is detected in either country.

In a joint statement, the chief veterinary officers of both countries said the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have agreed to allow the safe trade of live swine, swine semen, pet food, animal by-products, and meat to continue if there’s an outbreak.

African swine fever (ASF) is a highly contagious viral disease responsible for killing millions of domestic pigs and wild boars in Africa, Asia, and parts of Europe. There is no treatment or vaccine for it.

China, which produces and consumes two-thirds of the world’s pork, has been grappling with an outbreak of African swine fever since August 2018. In less than a year, one million pigs have died and the disease has spread to 31 of China’s 34 provinces, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said.

Canada does not import live pigs or pork products from China or other countries where the disease has been detected.

On its website, the CFIA said an outbreak of African swine fever in Canada would have a significant economic impact on the country’s pork industry. The government agency said the disease has never been detected in Canada.

The agriculture officials said they have worked to modify their export certificates to allow trade to continue in approved “disease-free zones,” which would be determined by geographic boundaries, if there is an outbreak. The arrangement would build on existing Canada-U.S. zoning boundaries established by the CFIA and USDA last year.

“Zoning is an internationally-recognized tool used to help manage diseases and facilitate international trade,” the press release said.

In accordance with World Health Organization for Animal Health guidelines, the control zones would be defined by geographic boundaries and the areas outside of these control zones would be called “disease-free zones.”

Although African swine fever is currently not present in Canada and the U.S., the chief veterinary officers said the safe trade agreement will safeguard the pork industries in both countries.

In Canada, the pork business contributes to more than 100,000 jobs and generates nearly $24 billion, according to the departments. Canada is also the third-largest pork exporting country in both value and volume and is responsible for approximately 20 per cent of the world pork trade.

Pork is also an important industry in the U.S. where producers marketed more than 120 million hogs in 2017 worth $20 billion. The industry also supports more than half a million jobs, in mostly rural areas, in the U.S., the release said.

“A global threat, ASF cannot be addressed in isolation,” the agencies said. “Only by working together with governments, industry and other stakeholders can we best address the threat of ASF while maintaining trade of pork and pork products which are important to the Canadian and U.S. economies.”