© Reuters. PHOTOGRAPHY: Columns of trucks are seen at the Ningbo Zhoushan Port Container Terminal in Zhejiang Province, China, August 15, 2021. cnsphoto via REUTERS
Dominique Patton and Siddharth Cavale
BEIJING (Reuters) – Producers of Irish whiskey, Belgian chocolate and European coffee brands are struggling to comply with new Chinese food and beverage regulations, and many fear their goods will not be able to enter the giant market as the January 1 deadline approaches.
In April, the Chinese Customs Administration announced new rules on food safety, according to which all facilities for the production, processing and storage of food abroad must be registered by the end of the year in order for their goods to enter the Chinese market.
But detailed procedures explaining how to get the required registration codes were published only in October, while a website for companies allowed self-registration was published last month.
“We are heading for major disruptions after January 1,” said a Beijing diplomat from a European country who is helping food producers with new measures.
Chinese food imports have risen in recent years due to growing demand from the large middle class. In 2019, they were worth $ 89 billion, according to a report by the United States Department of Agriculture, making China the world’s sixth largest food importer.
China has been trying for years to implement new rules https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-food-trade-idUSKCN1C109M covering food imports, sparking opposition from exporters. The General Customs Administration of China (GACC), overseeing the latest iteration of the rules, has given little explanation as to why all foods, even those considered low-risk, such as wine, flour and olive oil, are covered by the requirements.
Experts say it is an effort to better control large quantities of food arriving in Chinese ports and to shift responsibility for food safety to producers, not the government.
The GACC said in a statement sent to Reuters that it had asked for public comment on the rules before April.
“It has fully considered and actively accepted reasonable proposals” and strictly followed WTO agreements on the implementation of food safety measures, it said, adding that it also answered questions from the company.
The European Union has sent four letters to customs this year asking for more clarity and more time to implement, said Damien Plan, an agricultural adviser at the European Union Delegation in Beijing.
Last week, the GACC agreed that the application should only apply to goods produced on or after January 1, effectively granting a delay for products already delivered, the European diplomat said, although he has not yet released an official notice.
However, several diplomats and exporters said they saw the rules as a barrier to trade for overseas products.
“We’ve never had anything so draconian from China,” said Andy Anderson, executive director of the Western United States Agricultural Trade Association (WUSATA), a trade group that promotes U.S. food exports.
He described the rules as a “non-tariff trade barrier”.
Foods, especially chilled and frozen foods, have already faced major delays https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-china-food-idUSKBN27X14P in customs clearance in China last year due to coronavirus testing and disinfection measures.
Food, including unroasted coffee beans, edible oil, ground cereals and nuts, are among 14 new categories considered high risk and required registration by food authorities in exporting countries by the end of October.
Facilities producing low-risk foods can be registered on a website launched in November but not always functioning.
“The Chinese system is working now, but English is in trial,” said Li Xiang, head of business development at Chemical Inspection and Regulation Services Ltd (CIRS) Europe, who helps companies in the registration process.
The rules only apply to facilities that produce finished products for export to China, but provide little flexibility to change sources or labels.
Some U.S. liquor companies have registered, but are still unclear about labeling requirements, said Robert Maron, vice president of international trade at the United States Distilled Alcohol Council.
“There is not much time to understand what the requirements are and I think that is the main concern of our membership,” he said.
No Irish whiskey maker with the help of CIRS Ireland has been able to register so far, Li said.
It is not clear what will happen if the goods arrive without the necessary registration codes affixed to the packaging.
“At this point, the information we have received from the (Chinese) authorities is that there will be no delay,” he added.