China has agreed to reopen its market to Canadian pork after shutting it out earlier this year over swine flu fears, the Canadian government said Wednesday.

The announcement comes as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives in Beijing for his first official visit to China - Canada's second largest trading partner after the United States.

"Step by step this government is reopening markets for Canadian pork producers," Harper said in a statement.

China's about-face came "after many high-level interventions from Canadian experts and governmental officials," he said.

Chinese officials indicated they would lift the A(H1N1) 2009-related ban on Canadian pork and pork products from Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta provinces, said a statement.

However, it will maintain its ban on live swine imports.

"We are pleased that China has decided to no longer restrict Canadian pork," said Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. "We will continue to work with them to get our safe and top-quality Canadian pork to the dinner tables in China as soon as possible."

China is an important export market for Canadian pork producers who in 2008 exported 47 million Canadian dollars (45 million US) worth of pork and live swine.

Beijing halted imports after the swine flu was found to have infected a herd of 2,200 pigs in Alberta province in April, despite World Health Organization assurances that influenza does not affect the safety of properly cooked pork.