Chinese customs officials are demanding U.S. ag exporters sign a form guaranteeing their exports are free from COVID-19, trade and government reports say.
That demand has sparked pushback from trade industry leaders and the Trump administration.
“The recent move by Chinese authorities to require a statement of undertaking for food importers is not based on any legitimate food safety concern,” according to a statement from Western Growers president and CEO Dave Puglia.
Western Growers members and exporters of table grapes, apples, nectarines, almonds and pistachios are among those who have been asked to sign the form, said Cory Lunde, senior director of strategic initiatives and communications for Western Growers
“Our food system is the safest in the world, and the known science behind the transmission of COVID-19 is inconsistent with the Chinese government’s call for more restrictive food safety-related trade measures,” Puglia said in the statement.
“Indeed, the very food safety guidance referenced in the required statement — issued by the United Nations and World Health Organization — affirms that there is ‘no evidence to date’ of COVID-19 being transmitted through food or food packaging. This point is important for our domestic consumers to remember, as well.”
Efforts by some countries to restrict global food exports related to COVID-19 transmission are not consistent with the known science of transmission of COVID-19, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a joint statement.
“There is no evidence that people can contract COVID-19 from food or from food packaging. The U.S. food safety system, overseen by our agencies, is the global leader in ensuring the safety of our food products, including product for export,” Perdue and Hahn said in the statement.
Puglia said the viability of many U.S. farms depends on international trade with key partners like China.
“At a time when American farmers are still trying to dig themselves out of a coronavirus-induced financial hole, it will be difficult for the industry to absorb further losses due to unfounded demands like this,” he said in the statement. “We are aware that the Trump administration has objected to
China’s actions and request that the administration continue to pressure the Chinese government until it reverses this ill-timed and scientifically indefensible trade barrier.”
The Washington D.C.-based Agriculture Transportation Coalition said in an e-mail to members that U.S. exporters are reluctant to sign the General Administration of Customs China form guaranteeing their exports are free from COVID-19.
“Instead, some (coalition) members report that they are sending their own ‘Commitment Statements’ along with the cargo,” according to the e-mail. “While China Customs has not confirmed that these statements are acceptable substitutes for the official form, we are hearing that exporters sending these statements have not encountered any issues so far with their customers clearing cargo in China,”