Apec summit ready to push for Asia-Pacific food safety body

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2007, 12:00am

The mainland is facing a regional push to create an Asia-Pacific food safety body at next week's Apec summit in Sydney.

With concern mounting about the quality controls on mainland exports, foreign and trade ministers will consider launching a taskforce to unify members' food safety regulations when they are due to meet next Wednesday.

The issue is also expected to crop up when leaders from the 21 Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation economies, including President Hu Jintao, meet later in the week - the first time food safety has been a subject in such an international forum.

A draft summit statement seen by Japan's Kyodo news agency does not single out the mainland, reflecting Apec's tradition of seeking consensus. Beijing is a full member of the Apec forum and has been playing a greater role in the body and in other international forums in recent years. The mainland's economy is the world's fourth-largest.

'We discussed the issue of food safety and the actions Apec economies can take to facilitate trade and ensure the health and safety of our populations by improving food regulation and inspection consistent with international food safety standards, devoting greater resources to food safety and establishing more effective communication networks,' the draft says.

It announces the creation of an Apec Food Safety Co-operation Forum.

'We agreed to develop a more robust and strategic approach to strengthening, prioritising and co-ordinating regional food safety, especially in regard to increasing capacity-building activities,' the draft says.

'This initiative will assist our work on the harmonisation of food safety regulations with international standards ... and facilitate trade.'

The discovery of chemical residues and banned substances in mainland food and toothpaste exports, and excessive lead paint and other problems with toys has sparked jitters around the world about the 'made in China' label.

Washington had already warned the summit would cover food safety.

'I can assure you it will be on the agenda,' US Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez had said.

Mainland officials have yet to comment on the proposal. But Beijing and mainland experts have said protectionism is behind scares over mainland-made goods.

On Monday, quality inspection chief Li Changjiang defended exports.

Li Yingfeng, news office director of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, said more than 99 per cent of food exports had been of high quality for many years.

'Why did incidents break out so intensely this year?' he said. 'Trade protectionism is behind it.'

He said it was too early to say the creation of an Apec food forum was targeting the mainland. 'Product quality and food safety are international issues and every country faces the problem.'

Li Jianrong, of Zhejiang's Gongshang University College of Food Science, Biotechnology and Environmental Engineering, said most mainland exports were of good quality and met or exceeded international standards.

'It is good to harmonise food safety regulations in China based on global standards,' Professor Li said.

'We do have some standards lower than the international level and that's because developed countries have technology trade barriers. Some countries, like Japan, have dual standards towards domestic and overseas products to satisfy their interests.'