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Basic steps for exporting to China

Step 1: Complete exporters and importers registration

As an overseas manufacturer and exporter of food, you must register with the State Certification and Accreditation Administration (CNCA) if the food product being exported is on the ‘List of Food Imports Subject to Enterprise Registration’. Some of the food products that have heightened safety requirements such as meat and health products require additional registration. The registration is valid for 4 years and is extendable.

It is mandatory for exporters to register each shipment of food products online with the Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) department for tracking purposes.

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Step 2: Complete documentation and pre-import licensing

China has strict and complex documentation requirements for the majority of food products imported into the country. Before the shipment of products, you are required to submit documents on products’ quality, quarantine, origin, and import control, along with a detailed packaging list and a description of the packaging material, among other documents.

These documents are reviewed only after the shipment reaches China. Therefore, you must ensure that all your documents are complete and authentic to avoid any delay and storage cost.

For ease of understanding, you may use the Harmonised System (HS) codes available on China Customs’ website to check your product category and the associated import tax rates, documentation, licenses, and testing requirements. The HS nomenclature is the international system used for categorizing all products traded between countries.

Although the documentation requirements vary between products and product categories, you may prepare the following documents to import food products into China:

  • Commercial invoice
  • A detailed packaging list
  • Bill of lading
  • Certificate for export from country of origin
  • Hygiene / Health certificate
  • Certificate of bottling date (for drinks)
  • Certificate of free sale
  • Sample of original label
  • Sample of Chinese label
  • Inspection certificate

Pre-import licensing

In general, food products entering China do not require pre-import licensing. However, if you are importing poultry or dairy products, you need to obtain the Automatic Import License issued by the Ministry of Commerce. Food items subject to import tariff quotas such as wheat, corn, rice, and sugar are required to obtain the Agricultural Products Import Tariff Quotas Certificate.

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Step 3: Ensure label compliance

Every food product imported in China must be labelled in simplified Chinese characters to complete the Customs clearance. The general rules of the labelling of pre-packaged food, GB7718-2011, specifies the labelling requirements on layout and content of pre-packaged foods in China. In general, a label must provide following information:

  1. Standard name of foodstuff;
  2. List of ingredients as percentage;
  3. Name and address of manufactures, local agent, or distributor;
  4. Production date, best before, end date, and guidance for storage;
  5. Country of origin;
  6. Quality grade;
  7. Code of national standard/industry standard for the production; and
  8. Special contents, if any.

All labels must be approved by the Chinese Inspection and Quarantine Service (CIQS). As label standards in China are subject to change, you are advised to consult with our team at Sinowei to ensure compliance with the updated label requirements.

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About China

According to data provided by China’s National Bureau of Statistics, food imports in China have recorded an annual average growth of almost 15% in the past five years. Forecasts are that in 2018 China is set to be the biggest importer of food products in the world, importing around 480 million Yuan ($ 79 billion U.S. dollars) per year.