On April 12, 2021, the General Administration of Customs (GAC) of the People's Republic of China (PRC or China) released two orders related to the import of food products into China: Order 248 and Order 249 (collectively, the Orders). Both Orders will take effect on January 1, 2022. Taken together, the Orders require numerous participants in the supply chain for import of food products to China to register with the GAC and to comply with PRC food safety laws and regulations. 

Order 248, Administrative Provisions of the PRC on Registration of Overseas Manufacturers of Imported Food, requires all overseas food manufacturers, processors, and storage facilities of imported food to register with the GAC and specifically identifies categories of "high-risk foods" that require special registration processes. These categories are as follows: 

  • meat and meat products;
  • sausage casings;
  • aquatic products;
  • dairy products;
  • bird's nest and bird's nest products;
  • bee products;
  • eggs and egg products;
  • edible fat and oil materials;
  • stuffed pasta;
  • edible grains;
  • industrial products of grain flour and malt;
  • fresh, preserved and dehydrated vegetables and dried beans;
  • condiments;
  • nuts and seeds;
  • dried fruits;
  • unbaked coffee beans and cacao beans;
  • special dietary food; and
  • health food.

Order 249, Administrative Measures on Import and Export Food Safety, covers a broad range of requirements on food imports to China, including overseas facilities registration, record filing by importers and exporters, quarantine and inspection, and product labeling pursuant to the various PRC laws. 

The GAC has not provided formal guidance on how it will implement the Orders and the registration processes, though unofficial information provides some insights. Industry groups understandably have expressed concerns. What is clear is that the Orders will force companies to examine their operations through the lens of China's food safety laws and regulations and to document compliance in a way that satisfies the GAC.

After multiple significant food safety incidents, China has regularly updated its food safety laws and revisions, with the requirements on companies becoming more stringent with each revision. With the development of cross-border e-commerce in China, a wide variety of imported foods that do not comply with Chinese laws and regulations have entered the market.  As a result, China's government decided to strengthen the supervision of both the imported food and the overseas food manufacturers. 

Companies involved in the supply chain of food imports to China, including manufacturing, storage, and transport companies, will need to understand the PRC legal requirements for their specific operations. For example, Order 248 requires the registration number of overseas facilities to be included on both the inner and outer packaging, and those labels must comply with General Standard for the Labeling of Prepackaged Foods (GB 7718) and other applicable standards, which will typically require revision of the "best before date" to "expiration date."  In addition, Order 249 provides that importers of food produced with new raw materials to obtain a license issued by the Chinese government before imports would be allowed. 

Companies with concerns about compliance and registration under the Orders should feel free to contact us with questions. Winston & Strawn and Yuanda China Law Offices (Yuanda) have a strategic alliance, known as YuandaWinston, which allows us to provide seamless cross-border legal services to our clients. Yuanda is a fully licensed PRC law firm able to provide advice on PRC law, as well as represent companies in court or before government agencies. Lawyers in the YuandaWinston alliance regularly handle matters before the GAC and other agencies, as well as PRC food safety and labeling laws. 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.