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Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says that if Canada and the U.S. had recognized each other's disease control zones during the BSE outbreak in 2003, cattle from disease-free areas such as Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada would still have been able to cross the border. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Canada and the United States have agreed to recognize each other's control zones during animal disease outbreaks.

The agreement means that if there's an outbreak in one area, the other country will continue to allow imports of live animals, animal products and by-products from disease-free areas.

Speaking in Winnipeg, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz pointed to 2003 when bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow disease) was found in Western Canada.

Ritz said cattle from disease-free areas such as Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada would still have been able to cross the border if a zoning deal had been in place.

Ritz said the agreement will still prevent the spread of disease but minimize disruptions in the trade of healthy animals.

A framework outlining exactly how the arrangement is to work is being developed.

It will involve extensive consultation with industry groups, states and provinces.