STC Number - 114

Food safety regulations affecting agricultural products produced from modern biotechnology

Maintained by: China
Raised by: United States of America
Supported by: Argentina; Australia; Canada
First date raised: March 2002 G/SPS/R/26 paras. 12-14
Dates subsequently raised: June 2002 (G/SPS/R/27 paras. 21-23)
November 2002 (G/SPS/R/28 paras. 93-94)
Number of times subsequently raised: 2
Relevant documents: G/SPS/N/CHN/10
Products covered:
Primary subject keyword: Food safety
Keywords: Food safety; Genetically modified organisms (GMOs); Human health; Sufficiency of scientific evidence; Transparency
Status: Not reported
Date reported as resolved:

Extracts from SPS Committee meeting summary reports

In March 2002, the United States had expressed serious concerns about China's Ministry of Agriculture implementing regulations for the management of agricultural biotechnology products. These regulations, originally published on 6 June 2001, were released without warning on 7 January 2002. The regulations, which required pre-market approval and mandatory labelling of biotech products and affected GMO imports, were scheduled to go into effect on 20 March 2002. The United States noted that China had not notified these regulations to the WTO, precluding any chance for comment by interested WTO Members. Furthermore, certain aspects of the new regulations appeared to be inconsistent with WTO rules, and established different approval procedures for imported and domestic products. The United States welcomed the interim measures issued on 11 March 2002, which streamlined measures for the importation of biotech agricultural products through 20 December 2002. Canada, Argentina and Australia associated themselves with the concerns expressed by the United States.
China explained that public anxiety country over the safety of GM agricultural products and foods had led the Chinese Government to issue regulatory rules in May 2001. As China was not at that time a WTO Member, it had no obligation to make a notification. However, China intended to notify the three implementing measures issued in January 2002t once the English versions had been finalised. China reported that bilateral consultations had been held with the major parties concerned and that interim measures had been introduced to avoid disruption of normal trade.
In June 2002, the United States reported that China's Ministry of Health had issued a decree on biotech safety and labelling on 8 April 2002. The decree would take effect on 8 July, but the Ministry of Health had not issued implementing regulations. Additionally, the decree had not been notified. The United States believed that mandatory labelling for biotech products that were substantially equivalent to their conventional counterparts had no scientific justification. Under such circumstances, labelling wrongly implied a possible risk to the consumer. US companies exported to China over US$ 1 billion/year of biotechnology products, including soybeans and corn, and processed products. The United States requested an interim period for implementation of the decree, to allow sufficient time for compliance by exporters. Canada and Argentina shared the concerns expressed by the United States. China explained that the failure to notify the measure in advance had been inadvertent, and invited Members to send comments to its Enquiry Point or directly to the Ministry of Health. China also expressed an interest in holding bilateral consultations with interested WTO Members.
In November 2002, the United States and Argentina expressed concern regarding the implementation dates proposed for the April regulations and requested China to consider ways to reduce the possible trade effects. Argentina also reported that it had held bilateral consultations with China on this matter. China clarified that notification of the draft regulation had been submitted just prior to the last SPS Committee meeting. China's Ministry of Health had agreed to extend the interim period for one year.