BEIJING/PARIS (Reuters) – China has lifted a ban on French poultry imports that has been in place since December 2015 following an outbreak of highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu in the European country.

The lifting of the ban is effective immediately, said China’s General Administration of Customs on its website on Wednesday.

The announcement comes shortly after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to France this week.

It comes as poultry prices in China are close to record levels, driven by rising demand for poultry and tight supplies of breeding stock.

Demand for chicken meat has picked up since last August when China reported its first outbreak of African swine fever in the country’s huge pig herd. Since then, the disease has swept across the country, denting pork supplies and driving up meat prices.

The United States agriculture department’s attache in China expects demand for chicken meat to rise around 9 percent in 2019, primarily due to African swine fever.

The lifting of the ban was first announced on Monday in Paris, but without details of when it would take effect.

In an email to Reuters on Tuesday, the French poultry industry association – Federation des Industries Avicoles – welcomed the move.

“The Chinese market is a complementary market to the French and European market, since the Chinese consume different products, which we cannot value otherwise…,” it said.

Slaughterhouses still needed to have plant-specific suspensions lifted before they could export to China, the industry association added.

While France has only exported small volumes of chicken meat to China in the past, the country was a major supplier of breeding stock for China’s white-feathered broiler chicken producers, which have faced challenges replenishing their stock in recent years because of bird flu-related bans on many countries.

(The story changes day of week in paragraph 7 to Monday, not Sunday)

(Reporting by Dominique Patton in BEIJING and Sybille de la Hamaide in PARIS; Editing by Tom Hogue and Sherry Jacob-Phillips)