Chinese customs authorities issued new food safety rules in April that stipulated that all overseas food manufacturing, processing and storage facilities must be registered by the end of the year for their goods to be able to be stored. access the Chinese market.
But detailed procedures on how to get the required registration codes were only released in October, while a website for businesses allowed to self-register went live last month.
“We are heading for major disruption after January 1,” said a Beijing-based diplomat from a European country who is helping food producers with the new measures.
China’s food imports have increased in recent years amid growing demand from a huge middle class. They were worth $ 89 billion in 2019, according to a report from the US Department of Agriculture, making China the world’s sixth-largest food importer.
China has tried to implement new rules covering food imports for years, sparking opposition from exporters. The General Administration of Customs of China (GACC), overseeing the latest version of the rules, has provided 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 this is an effort to better monitor the large volumes of food arriving at Chinese ports and put the responsibility for food safety on manufacturers rather than the government.
The GACC did not respond to a fax asking for comment on the deployment of the rules and why it did not give food producers more time to prepare.
The European Union has sent four letters to customs this year asking for more clarity and more time for implementation, said Damien Plan, agricultural adviser to the European Union delegation in Beijing.
Last week, the GACC agreed that the implementation should only apply to goods produced from January 1, effectively granting a deadline for products already shipped, the EU diplomat said, although he did not have not yet issued an official notification.
Still, several diplomats and exporters have said they see the rules as a trade barrier for overseas products.
“We’ve never had anything so drastic from China,” said Andy Anderson, executive director of the Western United States Agricultural Trade Association (WUSATA), a trade group that promotes American food exports.
He described the rules as a “non-tariff trade barrier”.
Foods, especially chilled and frozen foods, have already experienced severe customs clearance delays in China over the past year due to coronavirus testing and disinfection measures.
Foods including unroasted coffee beans, cooking oil, ground grains and nuts are among 14 new categories deemed to be high risk that were due to be registered by the end of October by food authorities in exporting countries. .
Facilities manufacturing low-risk foods can register on a website that launched in November but hasn’t always worked.
“The Chinese system is working now, but the English system is in a trial version,” said Li Xiang, business development manager at Chemical Inspection and Regulation Services Ltd (CIRS) Europe, which helps companies with the registration process. .
The rules only apply to facilities manufacturing finished products for export to China, but they offer little flexibility to change sourcing or labels.
Some U.S. spirits companies have registered but still aren’t sure exactly what the labeling requirements are, said Robert Maron, vice president of international trade at the U.S. Distilled Spirits Council.
“There is not a lot of time to understand what the requirements are and I think that is the main concern of our members,” he said.
No Irish whiskey producer assisted by CIRS Ireland has been able to register so far, Li said.
It is not known what will happen if the goods arrive without the required registration codes stuck on the packaging.
“For now, the information we have obtained from the (Chinese) authorities is that there will be no grace period,” he added.