China has finally issued the draft Administrative Measures on General Certification of Imported Food for the so-called “Harmonized certificate”, i.e. the new kind of certificate that each exporting Country shall issue – and register with AQSIQ – in order to allow export of its food products to China.
The draft is out for public comments until July 31, 2017; after that its final revision shall start. The timeline is aimed at having the new regulation in force since October 1, 2017 – although, in theory graces/transitional periods may be granted by AQSIQ.
The new regulation declares to aim at ensuring imported food quality and safety, and at achieving effective connection with exporting country regulation.
The Regulation requires that a new certificate shall be issued by the competent authorities of exporting countries to certify that the batch of food products being exported to China that any such certificate refers to is actually produced, processed, stored, transported and exported under effective supervision from the authority, and is suitable for human consumption.
Import is prohibited for products without such certificate.
The content of this certificate shall include:
- Production related information: manufacturer name and address, registration number, information record number;
- Product information: product name, brand name, specification, packaging, net content, kind of products, production date, place of origin;
- Trade information: importer’s name, address, record number, exporter’s name, address, record number, place of shipment, place of destination, country of export, means of transportation, container number, seal number;
- Declaration that food being exported to China is produced, processed, stored, transported, and exported under the supervision of that authority and is suitable for human consumption.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW
Beside analyzing the new regulation and submitting comments within July 31, national authorities shall speed up to complete all preparation work to have such new certificates ready and then shall record with AQSIQ all related information such as:
- Competent authorities/authorized agencies for the issuance of such certificates;
- Legal grounds thereof;
- Approval procedure;
- specimen of the authorization document;
- specimen of agency stamp;
- specimen of signature of the visa officer
Very important: any competent authority of each exporting country shall guarantee that the issuance of this certificate relies on technical capacity and proven resources of its entrusted agency, and that actually supervision on production, processing, logistics and export is carried out for products directed to China and subject to such certificate.
From practical point of view:
- certificates should be at least either in English or Chinese – but bilingual versions are expressly recommended;
- certificates can be on paper or in electronic version (the latter being recommended, and their use will ease import procedure)
IMPACT ON FOOD EXPORT TO CHINA
The challenge for authorities will not be small: not only they need to re-think all their existing certificates, not only they will need to adopt Chinese for the technical content of such certificate, but they shall “ensure consistency between certification content and information of the goods”.
This may have effect on labeling as well, as the certificate already includes several mandatory labeling items (product name, kind of product, specifications, production date, etc…): it is easy to understand that any discrepancy between such certificate (even more, if in Chinese…) and the Chinese label (for example, product name, or product type which – due to differences in vertical standards between exporting countries and China – are all but rare) will create big problems for importing procedures…
This is confirmed by provisions of article 11, which clearly state that “In case of certificate with unqualified format or not matching the product’s information, products are prohibited from import.”
In those cases, AQSIQ shall inform the exporting country authority and require appropriate investigation. This can lead to black-listing of (i) specific foreign authorities in case of more than at least 5 non compliances within a 12 month period due to their responsibilities or (ii) of entire countries, in case of at least 10 non-compliances within 12 month period due to the responsibility of the competent authority at ministry level.
Some important issues remain not addressed under this draft regulation, such as:
- are all food products subject to such certificate, or are animal-origin products excepted (as they already undergo specific authorization regime?) This is not clarified by the ;
- how many certificates are going to be accepted per Country? In practice, each country might have different authorities competent for different products;
- how this will impact e-commerce and in particular cross-border ecommerce?
- What happens to products transiting from third countries (HK? Singapore?);
- Is this regulation applicable to prepackaged products, or also to bulk products?