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US rules for food may harm China-US trade(12/12/03)

 New rules set up by the United States for food shipments could end up being just another barrier to trade, say some industry insiders.

Women pack products at the Huamei Food Products Co Ltd, a food products exporter in Donggan City of South China's Guangdong Province. Huamei is one of an estimated 3,000 companies that export food to the United States. Like most of them, it had registered with the US Food and Drug Administration December 11, 2003. [newsphoto.com.cn]

    Most of China's food exporters were already registered with the US Food and Drug Administration Thursday -- a day before the new rules "aimed at protecting US from a bioterror attack'' went into effect, officials said.

    But some have complained the US regulations will cause them more problems than paperwork.

    Acting on the 2002 Bioterrorism Act, the FDA released two new rules -- Registration of Food Facilities and Prior Notice of Imported Food Shipments -- on October 10.

    The statutes require companies exporting food to the US to register with the FDA by Friday, December 12, 2003 and to give inspectors advance notice of any arriving shipments. The FDA said it may refuse or hold back unannounced shipments at entry ports.

    "We estimate the new US legislation affects at least 3,000 food and feed exporters in China," said Gu Shaoping of the Certification and Accreditation Administration of China.

    Most of those firms had registered with the FDA through various channels by Thursday, Gu told China Daily.

    In addition to translating the Bioterrorism Act and other FDA rules, Gu said his agency and China's quality inspection authorities have held talks with the FDA and helped Chinese food facilities register over the past few months.

    To help Chinese firms with the registration process, the China Import and Export Commodity Inspection Technology Institute created an agent in the US in mid-October, according to Li Jingjin, a division director of the institute.

    Despite the authority's efforts, however, some industry insiders in China said they feared the new regulations will end up as a "barrier to trade.''

    The US is China's fourth largest market of farm produce. It imported US$1.63 billion worth of agricultural products from China last year, according to customs statistics.

    Zhang Junxiu, vice-president of the Food Industry Association of Guangdong Province in South China, said the rules, which seemingly require a procedural registration, may result in trade restrictions and protection. He did not elaborate.

    Yan Menghong, director of a Taiwan-funded seafood exporter in Zhanjiang of Guangdong, said: "More than 80 per cent of our products go to the US market, so we have to seriously follow it regardless if the regulation is reasonable or not.''

    Li Changqing, an executive with one of the largest food exporters in Guangdong, said the registration process will enable the US to acquire information about foreign food suppliers, thus giving US an edge in case an international trade war erupts.

    Although FDA levies no fee for registration or receiving prior notice, the cost of exporters will increase because they have to go through all the procedures, especially to designate a US agent -- the person FDA contacts when an emergency occurs, Gu said.


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