The US asked China to lift import restrictions against most of the US meat processing plants cited in a Chinese announcement over the weekend more than a week before the action was made public, a spokesman for the US Department of Agriculture has told the Financial Times.
The spokesman said the restrictions related to seven of the eleven plants referred to in the Chinese food safety announcement – which was seen by some analysts as retaliation for a series of scares regarding the safety of Chinese products in the US.
The seven chicken and pork processing plants were cited by the Chinese authorities in formal notifications to USDA on four separate occasions in June.
The spokesman said “the food safety and inspection service (FSIS) conducted a review of these plants that confirmed they are following all regulations.”
He said the FSIS then sent a letter to China on July 5 requesting information on the Chinese test results and any other scientific information that lay behind the Chinese actions.
“The same letter requested the lifting of trade restrictions against these seven plants,” the spokesman said.
The spokesman did not claim that the Chinese action was necessarily without merit, noting that while the plants were in compliance with all US rules, there were differences in standards between the US and China.
These differences might include tolerance for defects in the production process, he said.
The spokesman said that China then notified the US on two occasions in July that it was taking action against another four US meat processing plants, also referred to in the recent public announcement.
The USDA spokesman said FSIS was “in the process of looking into the issues raised” in the most recent four actions.
He said there was nothing unusual about the back-and-forth between the US and Chinese authorities, saying similar issues had come up, for instance, with respect to US food exports South Korea and Japan, and had been satisfactorily resolved.
The spokesman said China has agreed to send a delegation of officials to the US to discuss food safety issues. Plans for this trip, which forms part of the US-China strategic economic dialogue, were in motion before the latest controversy.
However, he said the visit by Chinese officials – which is expected within the next two to three months – would provide an opportunity to resolve outstanding differences.
The US Trade Representative is waiting for USDA to evaluate the justifications for the Chinese actions, before judging whether they are in breach of China’s trade obligations.