On April 12, 2021, the Chinese General Administration of Customs (GAC) published the following two key regulations applicable to overseas food products exported to China:

  • Regulations on Registration and Administration of Overseas Manufacturers of Imported Food ("Registration Regulations") [1]
  • Administrative Measures on Import and Export Food Safety ("Administrative Measures")[2]

Both regulations will take effect on January 1, 2022 and replace the existing laws that regulate imported food and overseas facility registration, e.g., AQSIQ Decree No. 144, Measures for the Supervision and Administration of Inspection and Quarantine of Imported and Exported Dairy Products.

The two regulations reflect the overall trend of the Chinese government's commitment to strengthen the management of imported foods. Below we provide an overview of the two regulations with a focus on some of the new policies addressed in each document.

1. New Facility Registration Requirements for Manufacturers of Imported Food

To implement Beijing's policy of "the strictest administration," the Registration Regulations require all overseas food manufacturers exporting food products to China to be registered with GAC. Compared with the previous draft version [3], which mandated facility registration on all food manufacturers without distinction, the finalized Registration Regulations classify imported food products per their risk level into two categories, i.e., "specified foods" vs. "others."

Manufacturers of specified foods must be registered with the Chinese government by initiating their applications at the "competent authority" in their home country, whereas for other foods, the manufacturers can file their applications by themselves or through their agents in China. Notably, the Registration Regulations narrow the scope of "competent authority" to government agencies that are in charge of food safety and hygiene in the country (region) where overseas manufacturers are located. In other words, government-authorized institutions and industry organizations which were previously recognized to process applications may no longer be qualified as "competent authority" under the new Registration Regulations.

Prior to the Registration Regulations, foreign manufacturers of milk, meat, aquatic animals, bird's nest, honey, and their products were already subject to facility registration. The new Registration Regulations expand registration to the scope of "specified foods," which cover eggs and egg products, oils and fats, oilseeds, stuffed wheaten foods, edible grains (rice and coarse cereals), milled grain products and malt, fresh and dehydrated vegetables and dried beans, seasonings, nuts and seeds, dried fruits, unroasted coffee beans and cocoa beans, special dietary foods, and health foods (e.g., dietary supplements). All imported foods other than the preceding "specified foods" are deemed to be "other foods," which are subject to registration but with fewer dossier requirements.

The validity period of the facility registration is extended from the current four years to five years. Also, overseas producers shall file their renewal applications three to six months before the registration expires. Detailed dossier requirements for a registration renewal application also are provided in the Registration Regulations.

2. Conformity Assessment of Imported Foods

The Administrative Measures, compared with the current Measures on Import and Export Food Safety (also known as "AQSIQ Decree No. 144"),[4] set forth more comprehensive measures to assess the compliance of imported foods, which will include assessing the exporting country's (region's) food safety management system, reviewing the registration application of overseas food producers, etc. Notably, video inspection is expected to become a more routine measure in China's future conformity assessment of imported foods.[5]

3. Regulation on Imported Food Labeling

The Administrative Measures set forth detailed labeling requirements for imported foods, e.g., freshly frozen meat and aquatic products. Further, it expands the scope of products that must be printed with a Chinese label from formula milk powder for infants and young children, to all special dietary foods, including food for special medical purposes, complementary nourishments for infants and young children, and health food. Importantly, no Chinese label sticker is allowed in the labeling of the above mentioned food products.

4. Supervisory Measures Responding to COVID-19 Pandemic

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, China continues to assert its authority to apply strengthened, temporary measures in serious disease/epidemic outbreaks in the new Registration Regulations. Specifically, the Chinese customs authority is authorized to suspend or ban food importation if the subject food is contaminated with pathogens of infectious disease, or there is evidence showing that the imported food may become a vector of infectious disease and cannot be effectively sanitized. This further codifies some actions that the Chinese authority has been taking over the past year to tackle the challenges arising from COVID-19.