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China's New Rules on Import and Export Food Safety: A Primer – China Briefing

China has enforced new rules on import and export food safety from January 1, 2022. The new rules provide more details on the customs authority’s requirements on overseas food safety assessment and inspection, registration and filing of importers and exporters, product labeling, and food safety risk management. The measures come at a time when China’s customs agencies have already tightened scrutiny of imported food products during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The General Administration of Customs (GAC) released the Measures for the Safety Administration of Imported and Exported Food (GAC Decree No.249) and the Administrative Provisions on Registration of Overseas Manufacturers of Imported Food (GAC Decree No.248) on April 12, 2021. Both regulations took effect January 1, 2022.
The Import and Export Food Safety Measures (GAC Decree No.249) focuses on the management of both the imported and exported food chain, with an aim to mitigate food safety risks. The new GAC Decree No. 249 has integrated several import and export food safety regulations and rules, including those for specific food products like meat, dairy, and aquatic products. It also includes regulations on record filing requirements by importers and exporters.
Compared with the 2018 version of the Import and Export Food Safety Measures, the updated GAC Decree No. 249 has increased to 79 articles from 65 articles.
The new Measures cover a broad range of requirements on food exports to China, including overseas facilities registration, record filing by importers and exporters, quarantine and inspection, and product labeling, among others. It also adds obligations for domestic food importers in ensuring food safety and clarifies the re-inspection rights of food producers and traders.
To put it briefly, the GAC Decree No.249 presents the following major changes:
According to the GAC Decree No. 249, the GAC is authorized to assess and examine the food safety management system and food safety status of a foreign country (region) in specific conditions.
The newly added or revised Articles 10 to 17 explains what can trigger the GAC’s examination of enterprises that are based in a foreign country / region (Article 12):
The GAC Decree No. 249 authorizes the GAC to examine the foreign origin destination / foreign country’s laws and regulations related to food safety and animal and plant quarantine, the organizational structure for supervision and administration of food safety administration, prevention and control measures for animal and plant disease, etc. (Article 13).
The procedure to do this can include document review, video inspection, on-site inspection, or a combination of methods (Article 14).
The same as before, overseas food producers are required to register with the GAC; overseas food exporters and agents should make a filing with the GAC; and domestic food importers should file with the local customs agency (Article 18 and 19).
One change is that the GAC Decree No. 249 adds new obligations for overseas exporters and agents as well as domestic importers. Such traders are obliged to process the modification formalities within 60 days if there is a change on their filed information (Article 20).
In addition, domestic food importers will need to establish an “audit system” for overseas exporters and producers with a focus on examining the formulation and implementation of their food safety risk control measures as well as whether the food complies with the laws, regulations, and national food safety standards of China (Article 22).
Consistent with the existing rules, the GAC Decree No. 249 requires food packaging and labelling to meet the Chinese requirements. What’s more, the document adds that imported food products shall be accompanied by an instruction manual in Chinese if Chinese laws require so.
Besides, the GAC Decree No. 249 sets forth specific packaging requirements for cold fresh meat products and aquatic products. As to imported health food and dietary supplements, the Measures require the Chinese label must be printed on the smallest sales packages and shall not be affixed thereto (Article 30).
The GAC Decree No. 249 lists at least seven items to be inspected on site when food products are exported to China, including their labeling, packaging, the means of transportation, storage areas, etc. (Article 28).
The newly added or revised Articles 34 to 37 have detailed how the GAC will manage imported food safety risks.
The GAC may take control measures, such as increasing the proportion of supervision and sampling inspection of relevant imported food, and even require food importers to provide – by batches – the inspection reports issued by accredited testing agencies in case of a) any potential food safety risks that can be caused by food safety incidents in a foreign region or b) any safety problems of imported food are discovered by the Chinese customs agencies (Article 34).
The GAC can even suspend or ban imports of relevant food products in several serious situations, including (Article 35):
If imported food fails to meet the food safety standards or there is evidence that it poses potential hazards to human health, the import will be suspended, and food will be recalled following the same procedure as with domestic food recall (Article 37).
For both imports and exports, producers and operators may apply for a re-inspection if they object to the GAC’s inspection results. However, the re-inspection may be rejected in one of the following scenarios (Article 67):
Backup samples for re-inspection have expired.
Other reasons stipulated by the government from time to time.
The GAC Decree No. 249 has added that providing false information on paper filing, failing to cooperate with the GAC in inspection, refusing to comply with the labeling requirements, or other violations of the Food Safety Law, may trigger fines up to RMB 10,000.
As compared to the previous Administrative Provisions of the People’s Republic of China on Registration of Overseas Manufacturers of Imported Food (amended by GAC Decree No. 243 on November 23, 2018), the new GAC Decree No.248 entails multiple changes to the registration of overseas manufacturers of imported food:
Previously, the categories of imported food manufacturers that needed to be registered with GAC were announced through the Implementation Catalogue of Registration of Imported Food Overseas Production Enterprises, which mainly include meat (including casings), aquatic products, dairy products, bird’s nest products, bee products.
The new rule deleted the contents related to the catalogue system and expanded the scope of registration to all overseas production, processing, and storage enterprises exporting food to the territory of China (Article 2).
Previously, all enterprises that wanted to be registered had to be recommended by the competent authority of their home country.
Under the new rule, categories of food that need to be recommended for registration by the competent authorities of overseas production enterprises include: meat and meat products, casing, aquatic products, dairy products, bird’s nest and bird’s nest products, bee products, eggs and egg products, edible oil and oil, filling noodles, edible grain, grain milling industry products and malt, fresh and dehydrated vegetables and dried beans, spices, nuts and seeds group, dried fruit, roasted coffee and cocoa, special dietary foods, health foods. Enterprises producing food outside China other than the listed food may apply to the GAC for registration by themselves or by entrusting agents (Articles 7 and 9).
Previously, enterprises were required to indicate the registration number on the exterior packing of the food.
Under the new rule, when a registered enterprise exports food to China, it is required to indicate its registration number in China or the registration number approved by the competent authority of the country (region) where it is located on the interior and exterior packing of the food (Article 15).
Previously, the registration validity period for imported food manufacturers was four years. Under the new rule, the registration shall be valid for five years (Article 16).
Previously, the competent authorities of the countries (regions) where overseas food production enterprises are located in these Provisions included the official departments, authorized agencies, and industry organizations responsible for food safety and hygiene in the countries (regions) where overseas food production enterprises are located.
Under the new rule, the competent authority of the country (region) where the overseas manufacturer of imported food is located shall refer to the official authority responsible for regulation of food safety and hygiene of the country (region) where the overseas manufacturer of imported food is located (Article 26).
About Us
China Briefing is written and produced by Dezan Shira & Associates. The practice assists foreign investors into China and has done so since 1992 through offices in Beijing, Tianjin, Dalian, Qingdao, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. Please contact the firm for assistance in China at
Dezan Shira & Associates has offices in Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, United States, Germany, Italy, India, and Russia, in addition to our trade research facilities along the Belt & Road Initiative. We also have partner firms assisting foreign investors in The Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh.
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