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.”
Gudrun Gallhoff, the minister counselor for Health and Food safety within the EU’s delegation to China, demands more information on China’s testing methods for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. He argues that any testing results should be made available to exporters to ensure the fair participation of all trade partners.
More information related to the COVID-19 pandemic and packaging is available on the Food Packaging Forum’s resources page.
Global Times (November 19, 2020). “Gripes over food tests disregard safety of public.”
Dominque Patton and Emma Farge (November 18, 2020). “China testing imported food packaging for coronavirus, angering several countries.” Global News
Lily Kuo (October 19, 2020). “Live coronavirus found on frozen food packaging in China.” The Guardian
Flora Southey (November 20, 2020). “China detects COVID-19 on German pork knuckles, suspends imports from 20 countries.” FoodNavigator
Associated Press (November 25, 2020). “China Stepping Up Virus Testing on Imported Food Packaging.”
Business Insider India (December 7, 2020). “China finds coronavirus on two imported frozen food packaging samples.”
WHO (April 7, 2020). “COVID-19 and food safety: guidance for food businesses.” (pdf)