STC Number - 319

Chinese quarantine and testing procedures for salmon

Maintained by: China
Raised by: Norway
Supported by: European Union; Switzerland; United States of America
First date raised: June 2011 G/SPS/R/63 paras 19-24
Dates subsequently raised: October 2011 (G/SPS/R/64 para. 196)
March 2012 (G/SPS/R/66 paras. 44-46)
July 2012 (G/SPS/R/67 paras. 40-42)
October 2012 (G/SPS/R/69 paras. 40-41)
March 2013 (G/SPS/R/70 paras. 3.34-3.36)
June 2013 (G/SPS/R/71 paras. 4.22-4.24)
October 2013 (G/SPS/R/73 paras. 3.42-3.43)
Number of times subsequently raised: 7
Relevant documents: G/SPS/GEN/1090
Products covered: 03 Fish and crustaceans, molluscs and other aquatic invertebrates

Salmon, including frozen salmon
Primary subject keyword: Food safety
Keywords: Animal health; Control, Inspection and Approval Procedures; Food safety; Veterinary drugs
Status: Not reported
Date reported as resolved:

Extracts from SPS Committee meeting summary reports

In June 2011, Norway stated that after years of steady increase in its exports of fresh salmon to China, exports had dropped significantly due to testing and quarantine procedures implemented by China on 13 December 2010. These were followed by strengthened inspection and quarantine procedures as stated in Notice No. 9 2011, which had not been notified to the WTO. The Norwegian monitoring programmes, in operation since 1998, showed no presence of illegal substances in the fish products and had consistently documented low levels of contaminants. China's measures did not seem to be based on scientific principles or a risk assessment, and Norway requested an explanation for these measures and how they complied with the SPS Agreement.

The United States supported Norway and expressed their concern that China had implemented AQS1Q Order No. 9, Notice on Strengthening Inspection and Quarantine on Imported Salmon, in February 2011, without having notified the measure. The stated objective of this notice was to safeguard consumer health, however no risk assessment had been provided. The United States requested a copy of China's risk assessment, and requested that China rescind AQS1Q Order No. 9's documentation requirements until the measure had been notified. China was also asked to explain how the requirement for the exporter's vessel name and number related to ensuring that wild salmon was safe for human consumption.

The European Union also called for transparency in all SPS matters.

China clarified that since 2010, the entry and exit inspection and quarantine bureaus in China had detected fish lice, pathogenic micro-organisms and excess veterinary drug residues in imported chilled salmon. In an attempt to protect their consumers, China had published a notice to strengthen the inspection and quarantine of imported salmon, based on the Administrative Measure for Inspection, Quarantine and Supervision on Import and Export of Feed and Feed Additives and its revision and amendment measures of imports and exports of aquatic products, which were notified to the WTO. The measures taken were covered by these laws and regulations without any new element and therefore it was unnecessary to make another notification. China had already responded to Norway's concerns when it raised them in March 2011, during Norway's visit to China's AQSIQ and hoped that those replies addressed its concerns. China was open to further bilateral discussions with the European Union and the United States on this topic.

Norway stressed that ensuring seafood safety is a major objective of Norwegian authorities, who monitor the presence of undesirable substances, microorganisms and parasites in wild-caught and farmed seafood, as well as fish feed. Norway had been performing a risk assessment on seafood, based on studies of the most commercially important fish species in Norway. Stakeholders often held conflicting views on food safety and on the benefits of seafood and it was important to distinguish between fact and fiction. Norway was keen to further collaborate in this area with China.

China observed that Norway's concerns focussed on the detailed testing methods, however these purely technical matters had to be discussed among scientists. In March, scientists from both countries had held detailed discussions on this issue, and almost all of Norway's concerns had been clarified. China was disappointed with the lack of Norwegian efforts to resolve this issue, as when any cargo was identified to be carrying disease the problem was supposed to be rectified by the exporter. China welcomed Norway's and other interested parties participation in bilateral discussions as this issue had been on-going for two years.

In October 2011, Norway provided an update on recent developments in China's measures on salmon, in particular the new testing and quarantine measures on fresh salmon. The measures introduced in December 2010 by the implementation of AQSIQ Order Number 9 had led to a 70% reduction in the volume of Norway's exports of fresh salmon to China. Norway had requested bilateral consultations between the relevant technical experts, and urged China to agree to hold this meeting before the end of 2011. China indicated that the sharing of written documents and data was as important as physical talks, but Norway had not yet provided the necessary information. However, there had been smooth discussions on this issue in AQSIQ in Beijing.

In March 2012, Norway reiterated concerns about the new testing and quarantine measures introduced by China in December 2010, directed specifically at fresh, chilled salmon from Norway. These measures were further strengthened in February 2011 by the implementation of AQSIQ Order No. 9 and had led to a dramatic reduction in the volume of Norway's exports of fresh salmon to China. SPS measures should be supported by a scientifically based risk analysis, but to date, Norway had not received a copy of China's risk assessment on salmon. Norway urged China to agree on a date for bilateral consultations at an expert level as soon as possible.

The European Union supported the need for transparency and good communication in this matter, and underscored the importance of open and direct contact with trading partners on measures of concern.

China repeated the explanation provided in June 2011 regarding the detection of fish lice, pathogenic micro-organisms and excess chemical residues, among other issues, in imported salmon, and the measures it had taken to strengthen the inspection and quarantine of imported salmon. These import inspection and quarantine procedures were not aimed at any particular Member, but quarantine issues were detected in numerous shipments of salmon from Norway. China was willing to adjust the relevant measures once Norway had addressed the quality issues.

In July 2012, Norway noted that after December 2010, China had begun to report a tenfold increase in the number of notifications of "contaminants" in Norwegian salmon, amounting to a total of 24 in 2011. A large number of these notifications identified a microorganism that was not an issue in Norwegian aquaculture due to the prevailing low water temperatures. Active co-operation between technical experts from both parties was necessary to discuss and clarify the issue and ultimately normalize trade, but it had not been possible to hold such technical bilateral meetings despite Norway's numerous requests. However, Norway was encouraged that during the recent Trade Policy Review, China agreed to address the issue in a meeting between relevant technical experts.

Switzerland shared the concerns raised by Norway and requested China and Norway to meet in order to resolve the issue.

China observed that Norway was one of the main suppliers of salmon to China; however, in recent years more and more shipments of unqualified salmon were being detected. In 2011, 19 shipments of salmon were deemed as unqualified for the Chinese market. The diseases found in shipments of salmon from Norway were considered to pose food safety risks by the Chinese National Food Safety authorities and their presence was prohibited in food products. China was in the process of revising the limits on pathogens in food products and would set new food safety standards. The new draft standard had been notified to the WTO for comments. China remained committed to continue bilateral discussions with Norway.

In October 2012, Norway reiterated that these measures posed serious challenges to Norway's trade of fresh salmon to China, as the quarantine measures implied that all consignments of fresh salmon would be tested and retained in custody awaiting the test results. The obligations under the SPS Agreement required that SPS measures be supported by a science-based risk analysis, not more trade restrictive than necessary and applied in a transparent manner. The measures applied to salmon from Norway appeared not to be proportional to the situation and Norway requested China to provide the risk analysis that supported the testing and quarantine measures. Norway recognized the communication between AQSIQ and the Norwegian Embassy in Beijing, but requested AQSIQ to agree to the request for technical consultations on this issue, in line with Article 5 of the SPS Agreement.

China reiterated that in recent years its inspection authorities had detected pathogenic germs and excessive veterinary drug residues in imported salmon. Based on the results of a risk assessment, Chinese experts were of the opinion that the importation of salmon, especially chilled, fresh and farm-raised salmon, posed a high food safety risk. In order to protect the health of Chinese consumers, AQSIQ decided in early 2011 to further strengthen the inspection and quarantine of salmon imported into China from all countries. The relevant measures were based on existing laws and regulations and were not new measures which needed to be notified to the WTO. Norway was one of the main suppliers of salmon to China, however, Norway had failed to meet China's inspection requirements in recent years. In 2011, 24 cases of unqualified aquatic products from Norway were reported, of which 19 cases involved salmon. China remained committed to continue bilateral discussions with Norway and looked forward to further communication in relation to the Sino-Norway Memorandum of Understanding on SPS.

In March 2013, Norway reiterated its concerns regarding Chinese testing and quarantine measures for salmon, introduced in December 2010, and urged China to respond positively to its request for technical consultations with experts on this issue.

China indicated that since 2010, Chinese inspection and quarantine authorities had detected parasites, lice, pathogenic microorganisms and veterinary drug residues exceeding standards in imported salmon from Norway and other countries. In January 2011, for the protection of consumer health, China had strengthened inspections and quarantine on imported salmon, in accordance with the Chinese food safety law. The media had recently reported on a type of amoebic parasite found in a Norwegian fish farm and which was suspected to be present in another four Norwegian fish farms. This parasite could infect marine fish, including salmon, with the amoebic gill disease, which had already impacted Norway in 2006 and had devastating effects on the growth of salmon in the fish farms of Ireland and Scotland in 2012. China requested Norway to submit a list of fish farms and fish species that had been infected by the parasite, together with the measures taken by Norway in this regard. Based on the risk analysis of salmon, China would consider gradual adjustments to its measures under the premise of ensuring safety in the future. China expected Norway to continue to take relevant measures to carry out the inspection of exported aquatic products including salmon and to report information on the quality of fish and fish farms to China.

Norway acknowledged the right of China to perform the necessary testing on seafood and on all products entering the country. However, Norway noted discrepancies between the outcomes of the inspections in Norway and the findings reported by China in its statement. For this reason, Norway emphasized the need for actual cooperation on a technical level to resolve this issue.

In June 2013, Norway reiterated its concern regarding China's testing and quarantine measures on salmon exported from Norway. In addition to these measures, China enforced a licensing system in a manner that de facto established quantitative restrictions on the import of salmon from Norway. While this system was probably outside the purview of the SPS Committee, it helped to illustrate the overall pattern of restriction. Although Norway generally had quite fruitful co-operation with the Chinese authorities regarding food safety and imports, it had yet to receive a response from China despite multiple requests for technical consultations on this issue. Norway recalled that at the SPS Committee meeting in October 2012, China stated that it had requested information from Norway regarding the issue of amoebic gill parasite. However, Norway had been unable to verify that such a request was ever received by Norwegian authorities. As such, Norway asked China to provide the necessary information in writing so that it could comply with China's request. Norway expressed its desire to move this issue towards positive resolution.

China responded that its entry and exit inspection and quarantine agencies had detected carcinogenic microbes and veterinary drug residues in salmon imported from Norway. These products, especially chilled, ready-to-eat salmon, posed a substantial threat to the health of consumers. As such, since 2011, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) had enhanced inspection and quarantine measures on imported salmon from all countries and areas. In light of the detection of parasitic infections in salmon in recent years, China would consider adjusting its import measures based on quality and risk analyses of salmon to ensure the safety of its consumers.

Norway stated that there was a discrepancy in Chinese and Norwegian testing results and this pointed to the need for co-operation at a technical level. Norway requested that such a meeting take place in order to work with China towards a solution.

In October 2013, Norway recalled that it had raised this concern several times in the past, however, the quarantine and testing measures introduced by China in 2010 were still applied to Norwegian salmon. Norway repeated the need for technical consultations and hoped to see a prompt positive resolution to this issue.

China explained that its entry-exit inspection and quarantine services had detected pathogenic microorganisms and excessive veterinary drug residues in salmon, including frozen salmon. Upon risk analysis, experts had considered that the pathogenic bacteria found in the ready-to-eat frozen salmon posed a substantial threat to consumer health. As such, since 2011, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) had enhanced inspection and quarantine measures on imported salmon from all countries and areas. China expressed concern about infectious salmon anaemia (ISA) that had intensively occurred in Norwegian salmon since 2012, and feared that Norwegian salmon could be the source of Listeria monocytogenes. China stated its willingness to continue communications with the Norwegian authorities.