China faces backlash due to new import rules for food and beverages

December 13, 2021 by
Frank Calviño
Photo by Ralph Ravi for Unsplash

On January 1st of 2022, China’s new import rules for food and beverage will enter into effect. And many companies are struggling to hit the deadline with their paperwork done. 

China's customs authorities published new food safety rules in April, this year, stipulating that all food manufacturing, processing, and storage facilities abroad, need to be registered by year-end for their goods to access the Chinese market. This represented a massive change in how companies were currently operating and forced all companies to comply with the new registration process. 

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This process was, originally intended, 100% online. Yet, the detailed procedures explaining how to get the required registration codes were only issued in October, while a website for companies allowed to self-register barely went live last month.

The United States Department of Agriculture reported a peak of $89 billion in 2019, worth in trade of food imports into China. Most of these imports, aimed at a growing middle class, who wishes to access food products that are not locally produced, or that are semi-luxurious regional specialties, like Parmigiano cheese. With these numbers, China has become the world's sixth-largest food importer.

UE is not understanding the new import rules

Being such an important new market, many countries and trade organizations from different regions, have voiced their complaints about the new import rules. Perhaps the most adamant on doing so has been the European Union: The EU has sent four letters to Customs this year requesting more clarity and more time for implementation, said Damien Plan, agriculture counselor at the European Union Delegation in Beijing and was reported by Reuters

What has already been considered as one of the major issues, is the apparent lack of interest from the Chinese government to explain the reasoning behind the new import rules. The General Administration of Customs of China (GACC), overseeing the latest iteration of the rules, has provided little to no explanation for why all foods, even those considered low-risk such as wine, flour, and olive oil, are required now to cover extensive new requisites to continue to be imported into the country. 

Photo by Mathew Schwartz for Unsplash

The USA claims the new import rules are draconian 

The United States food industry position seems to align with the EU in this matter: "We have never had anything this draconian out of China," commented Andy Anderson, executive director of the Western United States Agricultural Trade Association (WUSATA), a trade group that promotes U.S. food exports.

The new import rules are perceived by American companies as counter-productive and punishing. And the lack of information adds to the apparent inoperative state of the online registration website. 

"The Chinese system is working now but the English one is on a trial version," said Li Xiang, business development manager at Chemical Inspection and Regulation Services Ltd (CIRS) Europe, which is helping companies with the registration process.

The rules only apply to facilities making finished products to be exported to China, but it provides little flexibility to change sourcing or labels.

Some U.S. spirits companies have registered but are still unclear on labeling requirements, said Robert Maron, VP International Trade at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

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