More open trade with China could mean an extra $1 billion in trade a year for Canadian canola producers, according to industry group SaskCanola.

Canola producers in Canada currently trade $2.7 billion with China, with tariffs of about nine per cent on canola seed and five per cent on canola meal, said Janice Thronberg, executive director of SaskCanola.

With renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement underway, she said diversifying Canadian trade partners is important.

“Being able to have more of a transparent process with China, a freer trade, would be certainly helpful,” Thronberg said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had been expected to launch free trade talks during his trade-focused trip to China this week, but those discussions were delayed.

China has expressed concern about Canadian canola carrying a fungus called backleg disease. The country imposed restrictions on imports in 2009, and threatened to increase barriers in 2016 before backing down pending a new agreement on import standards.

Past and present restrictions levied by China have more to do with politics than science, according to Lixi Jiang, a professor at the Institute of Crop Science at Zhejiang University in China.

“We want to protect our own farmers from importation,” Jiang said. “The Canadian (canola) has relatively good quality and a low price, so I think it is more or less a political question.”

Canadian-grown canola contributes $26.7 billion to the Canadian economy, according to a study released this year by the Canola Council of Canada.