China defends COVID-19 stance at WTO meeting


By Joe Whitworth, Food Safety News by Marler Clark

November 19, 2020


China has defended its actions on coronavirus at a meeting of a World Trade Organization (WTO) committee.


The United States and Canada expressed concerns on China’s procedures affecting trade in food and agricultural products at the Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures. The U.S. had previously raised the topic at the last SPS meeting in late June.


Chinese representatives said the steps were provisional, science-based, in agreement with WTO rules and those of international organizations, and aimed at protecting people’s lives.


Reports from China have included detection of coronavirus on packages of shrimp from Saudi Arabia, fish from India, beef from Brazil and Argentina, pork from Germany, salmon from Norway and shrimp from Ecuador. Chinese customs has been doing nucleic acid testing for COVID-19 on imported cold chain foods, the inner and outer packaging, and containers.


EU position on China action


Officials from the European Union said they regret the outbreak has led a few countries to adopt trade restrictions for agri-food products that are not science based, targeted or proportionate to the risk. The EU was “very concerned” about “unnecessary” additional requirements in the form of tests, inspections or certificates on imported food products.


“It is regrettable that the People’s Republic of China. . . is imposing COVID-19 related measures on imported cold-chain foods without providing a risk assessment based on science to justify these measures. If individual members insist on additional, unnecessary verification and testing measures, the situation could easily lead to a global spiral towards imposing unjustified import controls in the agri-food chain.”


The EU asked China to share its risk assessment to justify the emergency measures and to explain why they are considered proportionate. It also wanted to know the expected date when the measures will end.


Guidance from China requires packaging of imported cold chain products to be disinfected and subject to nucleic acid testing on entry to the country prior to storage and distribution.


Brazil raised the Philippines’ ban on poultry imports after detecting SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, in a surface sampling on Brazilian chicken meat. The Philippines said that while international guidelines indicate the transmission of COVID-19 through food is very low, the fact that it is possible a person may become infected by touching a contaminated surface or object should not be dismissed.


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