China criticized for screening packaged foods for coronavirus


China finds coronavirus on food packaging from 20 countries, restricts the import of food products, does not share lab results; attracts criticism from trade partners that demand end to restriction, more information on used testing methods; World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting to reconcile conflict not successful

GlobalNews reported on November 18, 2020, about a conflict arising between China and several food-exporting countries. The Chinese health authorities claim to have found coronavirus on food packaging imported from 20 different countries and decided to deny the affected products from being imported. However, several countries are criticizing China for withholding evidence, calling it “unjustified trade restrictions” and not complacent with global norms of trade.

The parties sought bilateral reconciliation in a meeting at The World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva on November 5-6, 2020.

China argues it has isolated viable coronavirus from imported frozen cod (as reported on October 19, 2020, in The Guardian) and justified its strict measures at the WTO meeting with the argument of them being based on scientific evidence and “designed to protect people’s lives to a maximum extent.” Furthermore, Chinese authorities see a risk of the virus reentering the country through imported food products as mentioned in an article in the government associated publication Global Times.

Nevertheless, already in April 2020, The World Health Organization (WHO) published a document in which they dismiss the transmission route to humans from food or packaging (FPF reported).

Several countries, including Canada, the US, Brazil, and New Zealand, question China’s screening and restriction measures, which they argue threaten to harm trade and reputation of imported food products. They emphasize that evidence for positive test results are missing or not shared by the Chinese health authorities. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) specifically stated that “China’s most recent COVID-19 restrictions on imported food products are not based on science and threaten to disrupt trade.”

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Food Packaging Forum, 20 November 2020