Some major food exporters claim that the exhaustive tests are tantamount to a trade restriction. China says it has found the virus on the packaging of products from 20 countries including Brazilian beef and Indian fish, but foreign officials say the lack of evidence produced by authorities’ means it is damaging trade and hurting the reputation of imported food without reason.
In a World Trade Organization (WTO) November meeting, Canada called China’s testing of imported foods and rejection of products that had positive nucleic acid tests “unjustified trade restrictions” and urged it to stop it, said a Geneva-based trade official briefed on the meeting who declined to be identified. Supported by Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Britain and the United States, Canada argued that China had not provided scientific justification for the measures, said the official. The World Health Organization says neither food nor packaging are known transmission routes for the virus. “Whenever a health authority performs a test, and finds something, they should share the results,” said a Beijing-based diplomat who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to media. “China’s most recent COVID-19 restrictions on imported food products are not based on science and threaten to disrupt trade,” the US Department of Agriculture said. In its response at the WTO, China said its actions were “provisional based on scientific basis” and designed to “protect people’s lives to the maximum extent”, according to a Chinese trade official. Speaking at a food safety conference this month, Gudrun Gallhoff, minister counsellor for health and food safety at the European Union delegation to China, said exporters needed more information on China’s test methods and results.
“If you have trade partners you have to treat them fairly and give them a chance to be complicit,” she said.