MISE & Agrave; DAY
Lack of clarity and expeditious application deadline: new food import legislation in China is putting pressure on foreign companies attracted by the Asian giant's appetite.
China is the biggest food importer in the world: the country bought food and drinks from abroad last year for 108 billion dollars.
And the figure continues to grow: its food imports have jumped nearly 30% over one year in the first three quarters of 2021.
But last spring, Beijing issued two new decrees to improve the product traceability, in a country long shaken by health scandals.
As of January 1, 2022, all producers of foodstuffs exported to China must be registered with customs and obtain an identification number.
At the international level, only products “at high risk” from a health point of view (meat, dairy or seafood, etc.) are generally subject to special measures.
The new legislation hardens them and extends the field to a multitude of products which were not concerned until then: honey, olive oil, coffee powder, chocolate bars, alcoholic drinks …
It is about Chinese specificity unparalleled in the world.
“Lack of clarity”
Problem: the application details were published late and the registration site was only put online last month, catching foreign producers by surprise.
The procedure “is missing of clarity ”, annoyed, under cover of anonymity, several of them questioned by AFP.
The registration site, which is in an evolving version, does not also offer all information in English.
Companies have been able to register. But the process is complex and subject to approval. A number failed.
Others received an incorrect country code, a diplomatic source in Beijing noted.
A Portuguese company is thus referenced as “Spanish” on the Customs site.
To leave time for companies to adapt, several countries and the European Union have pleaded with Beijing for a postponement of the measure. In vain.
A few days before the entry into force of the new legislation, “many companies are still waiting to obtain their authorization,” regrets the EU Chamber of Commerce in Beijing.
” Import curtain “
” This is a matter of great concern “, indicates in Paris the Federation of wine and spirits exporters (FEVS).
The France alone has more companies affected by the new legislation than the rest of the European countries, particularly in the wine sector.
On Christmas Eve, Customs finally resolved to approve “high-risk” products from several countries, according to the diplomatic source.
But on January 1, “the import curtain will fall”, warns Alban Renaud, lawyer in China for the firm Adaltys.
“Will there be a margin of tolerance? What about the procedures in progress but not finalized? What about those who wake up too late? “, He wonders.
Joined by AFP, Chinese Customs did not respond to a request for information.
The new regulations will make “more transparent for Chinese consumers the origin of products”, rejoices on condition of anonymity an exporter of spirits up to date in the procedure.
It is, according to him , “progress” in terms of product traceability for a “not that complicated” procedure.
But it adds constraints to foreign companies already penalized by the pandemic.
Barriers to exporting?
In the name of the fight against COVID-19, Beijing is imposing at its borders drastic control measures on imported foodstuffs (screening tests on food and packaging, systematic disinfection).
These measures, judged “Disproportionate” by some professionals, lead to delays and additional costs.
Food import problems are to be expected from February, the diplomatic source suspects.
Since the discovery the year last of traces of virus on a cutting board of imported salmon in a Beijing market, China is particularly finicky with the cold chain.
The hypothesis of frozen food originally the COVID-19 epidemic in China had, however, been attacked by the WHO.
“Products that do not meet (health) standards will be rejected”, insisted on Wednesday an official of the administration which supervises the agrifood industry.
What to see, for some observers, of e “new export barriers” under the guise of fighting the epidemic.