Food exporters strive to meet challenges of higher safety standards

Updated: 2008-05-03 13:35

GUANGZHOU -- China's booming food export industry is facing a difficult year as the overall environment for Chinese food export has tightened and stricter examinations are required from Western importers.

Many food export firms in the spring session of the Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China held in the latter half of April, were daunted by the rising examination costs after the dumpling poisoning case in Japan early this year, although the case was believed by both sides to be an individual one of sabotage. As a result, food exports to Japan and the Republic of Korea decreased drastically in the first quarter.

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"Weihai (in East China) is a traditional apple export base, but the export to the EU and US has become pretty difficult recently because of the strict requirement of the pesticide residue indexes," said Tian Xuqing, director of the Weihai Municipal Chamber of Commerce of Fruit Import and Export.

"Whatever amount you export to the EU countries, they always send experts to investigate the food quality in the producing and processing areas," he said.

The Western media's tub-thumping reports had brought shame on Chinese food, said a manager with the Guangdong Native Produce Import and Export Corporation, without giving his name, and the export of seafood and pickles to the United States was suspended.

The rising labor and material costs and dismal overseas market hit by the sub-prime crisis are making the Chinese food export situation more complicated, said Ou Minggang, deputy editor-in-chief of Chinese Banker magazine.

"The global market is imposing more and more restraints against Chinese food. A 10 percent increase of Chinese food export this year is good enough," said Huo Jianguo, director of China Chamber of Commerce of Import and Export of Foodstuffs, Native Produce and Animal Byproducts (CFNA).

Facing severe export pressures, Chinese food exporters are strengthening their efforts in quality and hygiene control. Many firms have built their material bases and set up food tracing systems with which the producing area, producing date, producer, brand and source of the seed can be easily found.

Jiangsu Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Import and Export Corporation, a major food exporter, began to build their food material bases and standardized production streamline several years ago. The company exported under its own brands.

Although the company asked 20 percent more in price from the foreign buyers, many deals were still clinched at the fair. Deputy general manager Zhang Jin predicted an export volume of US$80 million this year, up 60 percent from last year.

Some companies are seeking opportunities from the Middle East, Russia and Africa to offset the loss in the European and US markets.

This year, the CFNA will organize the domestic food companies to attend more than 10 international food trade fairs, half of which are based in the new markets including Russia, Argentina, the United Arab Emirates and India.

"We will not loosen the quality safety standard for our new markets. New markets need safe products even more," Zhang Jin said.

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