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China to Restrict Genetically Modified Foods - 2002-03-12

China will start limiting imports of genetically modified food products next week, saying that it needs to protect the health of Chinese consumers. But the restrictions have some U.S. exporters worried.

Chinese Foreign Trade Minister Shi Guangsheng has said that starting March 20, China will require importers of bio-engineered food to face tougher inspection standards.

Mr. Shi tells a news conference in Beijing that researchers still cannot prove that genetically modified organism (GMO) products are safe for consumers. He said China is implementing the new regulations to ensure the health of its people and the safety of its food.

Mr. Shi denies that the move is designed to help protect China's farmers from cheap imports. As a new member of the World Trade Organization, China must reduce its import tariffs for farm and other products.

Mr. Shi said that before formulating its new policy on bio-engineered food, Beijing consulted with various trade partners and took their views into consideration. Mr. Shi said that China is merely following the example of other countries who restrict GMO imports.

China will ask importers to show a certificate from their own or another government, saying that the genetically modified products are safe. Foreign companies will face a waiting period of 30 days before their products are allowed into China.

China originally planned to impose much tighter restrictions on bio-engineered food imports requiring a 270 day waiting period, among other things. But President Bush personally raised the issue with senior Chinese officials during his visit to Beijing last month, asking them to relax their rules.

Washington said the original import restrictions would hurt the billion dollar annual trade in U.S. soybeans, most of which are genetically modified. U.S. officials say the new regulations will allow trade to continue, but they are waiting to see how the rules are carried out.

Separately, Mr. Shi said that China strongly opposed the U.S. decision to impose tariffs on steel imports. He said he had written a letter to the U.S. trade representative, protesting Washington's move. Mr. Shi called the tariffs an act of protectionism, which violated WTO principles. He said China is considering lodging a formal complaint with the WTO dispute-settlement body.