China food im­port rule draws flak

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Joe McDon­ald, Gil­lian Wong and Mar­ley Jay of The As­so­ci­ated Press and by Jing Yang de Morel, Miao Han, Matt Townsend and Haze Fan of Bloomberg News.

BEI­JING — The top U.N. food-stan­dards of­fi­cial will visit Bei­jing next month in a last-ditch at­tempt to per­suade China to scale back a plan re­quir­ing in­ten­sive in­spec­tions of food im­ports. The plan threat­ens to dis­rupt bil­lions of dol­lars in com­merce, trade of­fi­cials in Wash­ing­ton and Europe say.

China’s plan would com­pli­cate trade and in­crease ten­sion with the ad­min­is­tra­tion of U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who has promised to raise tar­iffs on im­ports from China, an­a­lysts said.

Un­der the new rule, set to take ef­fect as early as Oc­to­ber, each con­sign­ment of food — in­clud­ing low-risk items such as cho­co­late and wine — would re­quire a cer­tifi­cate from a for­eign in­spec­tor con­firm­ing it meets Chi­nese qual­ity stan­dards. Other coun­tries re­quire such in­spec­tions only for meat, dairy and other per­ish­able items.

Many sup­pli­ers see China as a grow­ing mar­ket for Amer­i­can fruit juice and snack foods, French wine, Ger­man cho­co­late, Ital­ian pasta and Aus­tralian or­ange juice. They com­plain China al­ready uses safety rules in ways that ham­per ac­cess for beef and other goods in vi­o­la­tion of its mar­ket-open­ing com­mit­ments.

“It could bring down food im­ports quite dra­mat­i­cally,” said the Ger­man am­bas­sador to China, Michael Clauss. “It of­ten seems it is more about pro­tect­ing Chi­nese pro­duc­ers than about food safety.”

In the past, China has banned all poul­try im­ports from the U.S. after re­gional out­breaks of path­o­genic avian in­fluenza. China has also tem­po­rar­ily banned all U.S. beef im­ports over con­cerns about the spread of mad cow disease. Trade of­fi­cials have been work­ing for years to de­velop a pro­to­col for the ex­port of Arkansas rice to China, the big­gest pro­ducer and im­porter of rice.

The new Chi­nese rule would add “un­nec­es­sary reg­u­la­tory com­plex­ity” at a time when China has promised to re­duce reg­u­la­tion, Jake Parker, vice pres­i­dent of China op­er­a­tions for the U.S.-China Busi­ness Coun­cil, said in an email.

Chi­nese reg­u­la­tors say closer scru­tiny is needed as food im­ports in­crease. They say they are will­ing to con­sider sug­ges­tions about al­ter­na­tives, but for­eign of­fi­cials say they have yet to make any changes.

China con­tends the in­spec­tions re­quire­ment is sup­ported by the Codex Ali­men­ta­r­ius, the “Food Code” of the U.N. Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion and World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with the dis­cus­sions. The Codex sets qual­ity stan­dards, but other na­tions say it rec­om­mends cer­tifi­cates only for risky prod­ucts.

The pres­i­dent of the Codex coun­cil, Awilo Ochieng Per­net, a Swiss lawyer, will at­tend an April 6 seminar with Chi­nese of­fi­cials in Bei­jing to ex­plain its stan­dards, ac­cord­ing to that per­son, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied fur­ther. Par­tic­i­pants plan to pro­pose al­ter­na­tives such as giv­ing China ac­cess to electronic records to track sources of ship­ments.

Am­bas­sadors from the United States and an­other gov­ern­ment ex­pressed con­cern in a let­ter in Jan­uary to Wang Yang, a deputy pre­mier who over­sees farm­ing and com­merce.

Of­fi­cials of the United States, the EU, Canada, New Zealand, Aus­tralia, Ar­gentina, Chile and other govern­ments sent a sim­i­lar let­ter to the Chi­nese prod­uct qual­ity agency, the Gen­eral Ad­min­is­tra­tion for Qual­ity In­spec­tion, Su­per­vi­sion and Quar­an­tine.

EU of­fi­cials be­lieve that re­quir­ing health cer­tifi­cates for all prod­ucts “is not sci­en­tif­i­cally jus­ti­fied,” the EU mis­sion in Bei­jing said in a state­ment.

The rules would be a bur­den on for­eign sup­pli­ers and “a waste of the pre­cious con­trol re­sources” that should fo­cus on risky prod­ucts, it said.

The rules fol­low an avalanche of scan­dals over Chi­nese sup­pli­ers caught sell­ing tainted milk and other shoddy or coun­ter­feit food prod­ucts.

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