Irish whiskey and Belgian chocolate makers and European coffee brands are rushing to be able to comply with new Chinese food and beverage regulations, and many fear their products will not make it onto the gigantic market by the Jan. 1 deadline.
China's customs agency published new food safety rules in April, stipulating that all overseas food manufacturing, processing and storage facilities must register by the end of the year for their products to gain access to the Chinese market.
But detailed procedures explaining how to obtain the required registration codes weren't issued until October, and a website for companies to register on their own started up last month.
“We're headed for big trouble after Jan. 1,” said a diplomat from a European country based in Beijing 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 reached $89 billion in 2019, according to a report by the US Department of Agriculture, making the Asian country the sixth-largest food importer in the world.
China has been trying to implement new rules covering food imports for years, which has provoked opposition from exporters. The General Administration of Customs of China (GACC), which oversees the latest version of the rules, gives little explanation as to why all foods, even those considered to be low risk, such as wine, flour and olive oil , are covered by the requirements.
Experts say this is an effort to better monitor the huge volumes of food arriving at Chinese ports and to place responsibility for food safety on manufacturers rather than the government.
The GACC said in a statement sent to Reuters that it had sought public comment on the rules before April.
The agency "fully studied and actively accepted the sensible suggestions" and strictly adhered to World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements regarding the implementation of food safety measures, he said, adding that it also answered questions from companies.
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 bloc's delegation in Beijing.
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