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Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird concluded a 7-country trip to Latin America in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Friday, August 9, 2013.

Oil and gas exports from British Columbia are a "national imperative" a federal minister said Thursday, a sign that Ottawa is reviving support for projects that have provoked criticism on the West Coast.

In Beijing on Thursday, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Chinese commercial and government interests "know our government's commitment on the energy front to get supply to the Pacific coast both on LNG and oil."

Westward movement on energy is "a national imperative for Canada, particularly with the challenges we've had with Keystone," Mr. Baird said in an interview.

His comments come amid a seeming thaw in relations between British Columbia and Alberta, which are working to establish fiscal terms that would see greater sharing of the benefits of oil movement. But they mark a significant change in tone from a government that had treated the highest-profile West Coast energy project with skepticism.

Last year, in comments widely viewed as a government-sanctioned shot across the bow, then-Heritage Minister James Moore warned that Enbridge Inc.'s Northern Gateway project "will not survive public scrutiny unless Enbridge takes far more seriously their obligation to engage the public and to answer those very legitimate questions about the way in which they've operated their business in the very recent past."

Mr. Moore was referring to a series of spills from Enbridge facilities, including a major rupture that led to oil fouling the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. At the time, Mr. Moore – now the industry minister – said the Enbridge "track record is not one that I think any other company should follow if they want to do business in British Columbia."

In the past year, significant attention has been paid to Energy East, TransCanada Corp.'s proposal to carry Alberta oil to the East Coast, where it could find its way onto tankers at St. John. Oil could travel from there to Asia, although such a route would represent a giant detour.