China’s meat trade on Friday cheered the imminent end of testing and disinfecting chilled and frozen foods for COVID-19, more than two years after Beijing started the controversial practice, adding substantial costs to the trade.
The State Administration for Market Regulation will stop testing chilled and frozen foods for COVID-19 from Jan. 8, according to a notice seen by Reuters and confirmed by the agency.
It will also no longer require all imported chilled and frozen foods to enter centralized warehouses for disinfection and testing before they reach the domestic market.
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The dropping of measures follows a similar announcement from the customs authority on Wednesday that it will stop testing cold-chain food arriving at the country’s ports.
“This policy means we will have much lower cost and risk on both product storage and transportation,” said a Beijing-based meat importer that buys beef and pork from the United States and other countries.
Having imposed the world’s strictest COVID regime of lockdowns and relentless testing for three years, China reversed course this month towards living with the virus, though new infections have soared.
China started testing chilled and frozen food imports for COVID in 2020 after an outbreak of the disease in a wholesale market led authorities to believe the virus had spread from imported produce.
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The practice was controversial with trade partners and significantly slowed the shipment of food to China, the world’s top buyer of meat and many other perishable goods.
It also raised costs for both importers and exporters.
“The cancellation of testing and disinfection requirements will definitely benefit the meat trade in terms of reducing extra cost and speeding up movement of goods,” said Huang Juhui, founder of Beijing Means Consulting Co.
COVID testing and disinfection, moving the goods from the port to central storage, demurrage, electricity, and centralized storage costs can add up to as much as 30,000 yuan ($4,321) per container, and take up to 30 days, said Huang.
“The reported ending of COVID testing and disinfection of imported meat at ports and at in-market distribution points will be an encouraging step toward the resumption of normalized trade,” said Joel Haggard, Senior Vice President of the Asia Pacific Region at the U.S. Meat Export Federation.