The United States has said it remains “deeply concerned” with China’s lack of scientific explanation of how two decrees address food safety and public health.

The U.S. repeated its concerns about China’s measures for registering overseas manufacturers of imported food at the latest World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting on food safety.

According to the U.S. and other countries, during a previous WTO Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures meeting in November 2022, China did not respond to concerns raised or provide the science or risk assessments that informed the measures.

Chinese officials said the steps strengthened supervision of food safety. As of October 2022, more than 100 countries had provided the list of enterprises recommended for registration, and 79,000 overseas producers had been registered.

At a WTO meeting in March, U.S. representatives said China’s General Administration of Customs (GACC) appears to require foreign authorities to maintain information in China’s online system for each registered facility from their country producing certain categories of products.

They added such a requirement creates “tremendous” administrative burdens on overseas agencies with no clear connection to food safety outcomes. The U.S. wants GACC to ensure facilities can self-register without authority involvement.

The U.S. also called GACC’s deadline of June 30, 2023, for firms and authorities to complete the registration process “completely unrealistic” and urged China to amend this timeline.

The issue has been ongoing since 2020 and other parties to express concern about the plans include Japan, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada.

Other trade topics
Countries also raised 48 specific trade concerns (STCs), nine of them for the first time, at the WTO meeting.

Issues discussed were pesticide maximum residue levels (MRLs), animal diseases, and COVID-19-related measures. New trade concerns covered meat, seafood, and plant import restrictions and procedures.

Several previously raised topics included pesticide tolerances and the environment, legislation for endocrine disruptors and veterinary medicinal products, collagen for human consumption, and phytosanitary certification requirements.

A number of countries again mentioned concern regarding China’s actions related to COVID-19 that, they said, could affect trade in food and agricultural products.

Canada’s donation
Meanwhile, Canada has given CAD $700,000 (U.S. $515,000) to help agricultural producers from developing and least developed countries (LDCs) meet international food safety, animal and plant health standards.

The move extends the country’s partnership with the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF), a platform used to facilitate safe and inclusive trade.

Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canada’s Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, said: “The Government of Canada is committed to helping our partners in developing countries to comply with international standards for food safety, and animal and plant health. Our commitment to the STDF to improve sanitary and phytosanitary systems will benefit farmers around the world, including Canadian farmers.”

The money will support the implementation of capacity-building projects, based on international standards referenced in the WTO Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, WTO Director-General, said: “The funds received will continue to support the STDF’s pioneering work in food safety, animal and plant health by equipping farmers, traders, and producers with the tools needed to access global food markets more easily. Compliance with international standards enhances food security in both importing and exporting countries by facilitating trade in agricultural products and by raising incomes and reducing poverty in farming communities.”

The next meeting of the World Trade Organization SPS committee is set for July 2023.

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