Comment: Chinese Import Backlash is a Two-Way Street

Two recent events show that, in the world of US-China trade, the regulatory backlash moves in both directions.

In July, according to a number of media reports, import authorities at the Chinese port of Zhuhai blocked a shipment of barbecue-flavored Pringles due to the presence of potassium bromate, which is legal within specified amounts in the United States, but prohibited in China (and elsewhere). Procter & Gamble, Pringles' brand owner, has disputed the presence of the reportedly carcinogenic material in the chips. However, a China-based spokesperson disputed that, claiming that the chips did include the material, but were intended for sale in the United States or Japan, where potassium bromate is legal. The spokesman went on to blame "unauthorized importers." While the authorities did follow the letter of the law, a number of flavor industry sources have questioned whether the Chinese action was in fact a "tit for tat" action in light of US criticism of China's product safety record.

Meanwhile, the US and Chinese governments, under US pressure, have just announced an agreement on limited food and drug shipment tracking from China. The plan includes several facets:

  • Chinese authorities must notify US authorities of any product posing significant health dangers within 48 hours.
  • Chinese authorities will also provide US authorities with lists of non-compliant exporters.
  • Shipments covered by the deal will be tracked by a secure electronic system for point-of-origin identification.
  • Foods covered include pet food and farm-raised fish.
  • US and Chinese authorities may mutually agree to add more products in the future.
  • China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine will handle food export certification.
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