Previously, we reported that the United States has raised concerns at the WTO about China’s trade measures related to COVID-19. On November 8, the United States made another submission (G/SPS/GEN/1982) to the WTO SPS Committee, renewing its concerns over these measures.

In the U.S. submission, which was circulated by the WTO on November 11, the United States cited FAO guidance that "current data indicates that neither food nor food packaging is a pathway for the spread of viruses causing respiratory illnesses, including SARS-CoV-2. In other words, SARS-CoV-2 is not a direct food safety concern.” The United States then highlighted that:

Through notification G/SPS/N/CHN/1173, China indicated that it is implementing these measures on an emergency basis. To date and in response to numerous requests by WTO Members, China has not provided any science-based justification or testing results to support the need for, or efficacy of, these measures, and we would remind China that in order to maintain provisional measures, China must seek to obtain enough evidence to justify them.

As the world continues to slowly reopen and rebuild, the unjustified trade restrictions adopted by China during the COVID-19 pandemic continue to threaten global food supply chains, slow global recovery efforts, and further challenge global food security.

It urged China to “withdraw these measures and work with its global partners to support the guidance of international organizations by building the body of scientific evidence on COVID-19.”

The document the United States referred to is China’s General Administration of Customs' No. 103 Notice (link in Chinese). It states that if a foreign manufacturer's cold-chain food or its packaging tests positive for the COVID-19 nucleic acid either one or two times, Customs will suspend the company's Customs declaration for one week. After one week, import declarations may resume automatically. If a foreign manufacturer’s cold-chain food or its packaging tests positive three or more times, Customs will suspend the company’s Customs declaration for four weeks. After four weeks, import declarations may resume automatically.

Recently, China’s Customs announced that it would suspend imports from one company (link in Chinese) in Indonesia and another one (link in Chinese) in Singapore because of positive COVID test results on the import packaging from these companies. Both suspensions will last only for one week.

The Notice only governs imports that have tested positive for COVID. In addition to addressing imports with positive test results, China’s Customs has also suspended imports from foreign factories that had COVID outbreaks, including U.S. meat manufacturer Tyson and OK Foods in June and September 2020, respectively. The suspensions are still in effect.

The import halt on these two American firms is also mentioned in the U.S. submission, which notes that “two US poultry production facilities remain ineligible to export to China over a year after China suspended exports allegedly based on COVID-19-related concerns” even though “[t]hese facilities have provided substantial information to China to support reinstatement." The U.S. urged China to reinstate these facilities.