Foreign companies worried about China’s food import law coming into effect

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Beijing (AFP) – Bringing wine, chocolate and coffee into China could become even more difficult from Saturday, with new import restrictions adding new hurdles for foreign companies bringing products into the world’s largest market. food and drink.

Chinese consumers bought $ 108 billion worth of imported goods in 2020, and that number is expected to increase for 2021, as imports have jumped nearly 30% year-over-year in the first three quarters.

But under laws that take effect Jan. 1, all food producers shipped to China will have to register with customs officials – another hurdle for international companies that have long complained of being unfairly penalized.

The additional barrier was previously only required for products with potential health risks, such as seafood. But now coffee, alcohol, honey, olive oil, chocolate and several other products will also be scrutinized.

On New Year’s Day, “the import curtain will fall,” Alban Renaud, a China-based lawyer with Adaltys, told AFP.

But he said there were still a lot of unknowns: “Will there be a margin of tolerance? What about open but unapproved applications?

A businessman involved in imports told AFP: “You need (certification) otherwise the goods will arrive at the ports and you will have to pay penalties.”

Businesses without the right papers will face border blockages, he warned.

Importers complained that the new application details were released late and the registration website only went live last month, adding that they faced frustrating hurdles in the process. trying to register, such as information not available in English.

Some companies even received the wrong country code, a Beijing-based diplomat told AFP, as a Portuguese importer registered as Spanish.

‘Still waiting’

Food companies and importers have already been beaten by control measures included in Beijing’s strict zero Covid strategy, with China linking the virus to food since an outbreak in Beijing last year was blamed on imported salmon .

Products entering China are now subject to additional screening and repeated disinfection, with products often banned when a Covid outbreak is discovered at the time of packaging overseas.

Chinese consumers bought $ 108 billion worth of imported goods in 2020 STR AFP / File

The World Health Organization has said the chances of Covid-19 being carried in food are slim.

Just days before the new requirements come into effect, “many companies are still waiting to obtain their approval,” said the EU Chamber of Commerce in Beijing.

He “urged the Chinese authorities to provide timely approvals …

The European Union formally asked Beijing to postpone the measure for 18 months, but without success.

Unless the issues are quickly addressed, the flow of imported food from China could be reduced month-to-month, the Beijing-based diplomat told AFP.

The Chinese customs service did not respond to AFP’s request for comment.

“The first products to arrive in China from exporting countries on January 1 will come from Korea and Japan,” said another diplomat. “So it will be our friends who will have the privilege of testing the thickness of the wall.”

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