Despite guidance from international health organizations stating that imported food shipments are an unlikely source of COVID-19 transmission, heightened COVID-related measures are slowing product movement into China.
Joel Haggard, U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) senior vice president for the Asia Pacific, says, “Since the summer, following outbreaks at wholesale food markets, China’s been swab testing imported meat and poultry and especially its packaging for COVID. At first, the testing was only conducted at ports during the product clearance process and on a sampled basis, but now China has implemented new rules mandating that all imported meat poultry be tested again at inland cold stores and distribution centers before moving on to end users like supermarkets and restaurants.”
Haggard adds, “Following more outbreaks among port and airport workers, China then mandated that all imported meat and poultry not only had to be COVID tested but had to undergo a disinfection procedure also to be conducted at approved inland warehouses. China has also begun to layer on a new phone app-based traceability system requiring any party handling imported meat and poultry to scan information about the product’s upstream and downstream movements.”
So, what has been the market impact of these slowdowns? Haggard says the effects have been more pronounced over the past few weeks.
“There have been some slowdowns in product clearance at ports as product looks to find approved warehouses where it can be disinfected, and then there’s been a slowdown in the movement of products as wholesalers need to get their COVID test and disinfection certificates. And we’re hearing of some consumer pushback on imported meat and poultry. So, these developments are coming at an inopportune time as this really is the peak meat purchasing and consumption season leading up to the February 12 Lunar New Year.”
Haggard says he expects these obstacles to be temporary and they’ll have less impact moving forward as China’s vaccination programs help curb new COVID outbreaks.