February 5, 2020
China Tightens Food Safety Standards with Sweeping New Regulations on Food Importation

Southeast Asian food exporters to China should be aware of new regulations announced in late November 2019 by China’s General Administration of Customs (GAC) for all food products. The first is still in draft form and seeks to expand the scope of the GAC’s role in policing all food products, while the second update—already implemented–makes the application process for an import license for animal and plant food products much more rigorous. These two updates deal primarily with the GAC; applicants for an import license must also comply with the regulations of the Chinese Food and Drug Administration.

Draft Update

The GAC issued its Revised Draft Management Rules for the Registration of Overseas Production Enterprises of Imported Food on November 26, 2019, and accepted public comment until December 25, 2019. The draft proposes to expand the scope of registration—from the current requirement of having only overseas manufacturers of meat products, aquatic products, and dairy products register with the GAC—to extend to overseas manufacturers of all food categories who export their products to China. For example, under the draft, manufacturers will need to register with the GAC in categories such as health foods, foods for special medical purposes, infant foods, wines, prepackaged foods like beverages, candy, chocolates, and so on. This means that overseas manufacturers who were previously able to export their food products to China without registering for approval from the GAC will have to register their food products if the draft rules are implemented.

The draft imposes a new risk-based system for registration. Imported foods with higher levels of food safety risks—for example, meat, aquatic, dairy, and edible bird’s nest products—will merit greater scrutiny. Registration for low-risk food categories will be more straightforward and have simpler requirements. The draft also imposes increased responsibility on the exporting country’s local regulatory authority with regard to the supervision and management of manufacturers before, during, and after registration. If the local authority is deficient in its duties, the GAC may reject the manufacturer’s registration. The draft also puts more responsibility on the Chinese importer, which is required to check that the overseas food manufacturer has been properly registered with a confirmed name, address, and registration code.

New Regulations in Effect

Also on November 29, 2019, the GAC released new regulations that add additional scrutiny for foreign applicants looking to secure an import license for plant and animal food products. Applicants now need to undergo an initial documentation review before an application is accepted. Once the application is accepted, the GAC will then form two expert panels to examine the safety, hygiene conditions, and quality control system at the point of manufacture, as well as compliance aspects such as formal business registration and management systems in the applicant’s country of origin. The regulations also require compliance with Chinese regulations and standards, as well as adherence to labor standards equivalent to those imposed on companies registered in China. Current license holders will be able to export and distribute their items until their current license expires. After expiration, they will be subject to the new application procedures.

These new requirements coincide with new certification regulations for organic products, in effect from January 1, 2020. Under these changes, applications for organic certification will only be granted for products found in the “Organic Product Certification Catalogue.” Companies that have received prior certification for products not included in the list can continue using the granted certificate until expiration. However, after expiration, organic products not listed in the new catalogue will no longer be deemed organic-certified.

These new regulations signal a push for the GAC to play a more active role in importing food products from overseas manufacturers. It is recommended that all food exporters to China review their current practices and make sure they are aligned with the GAC’s new regulations currently enforced and those that will be enforced in the near future.

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Kris Leevongcharoen