BEIJING – Major food-producing countries are growing increasingly frustrated with China’s scrutiny of imported products and are calling on it to stop aggressive testing for the coronavirus, which some say is tantamount to a trade restriction.
China says it has found the virus on the packaging of products from 20 countries, including German pork, Brazilian beef and Indian fish, but foreign officials say the lack of evidence produced by authorities means it is damaging trade and hurting the reputation of imported food without reason.
In a World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting Nov. 5-6, Canada called China’s testing of imported foods and rejection of products that had positive nucleic acid tests “unjustified trade restrictions” and urged it to stop, said a Geneva-based trade official briefed on the meeting who declined to be identified.
Supported by Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Britain and the United States, Canada argued that China had not provided scientific justification for the measures, said the official.
Canada’s Geneva-based mission to the WTO did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
China has only intensified its imported-food screening since then.
Last week, the Global Times, a tabloid backed by the ruling Communist Party, suggested that the presence of the novel coronavirus on imported food raised the possibility that the virus, widely believed to have originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, may have come from overseas.
China began testing chilled and frozen food imports for the virus in June, after a cluster of infections among workers at a wholesale food market in the capital.
The World Health Organization says neither food nor packaging are known transmission routes for the virus.
But China, which has nearly stamped out local transmission of the disease, says there is risk of the virus re-entering the country on food products.
The pushback came after months of growing frustration at the way Chinese authorities have been scrutinizing imports, which trade partners complain does not adhere to global norms.