California’s produce farmers and processors are confused and concerned by a raft of letters from Chinese importers, demanding they provide guarantees in writing that their fruit and vegetables present no risk of spreading COVID-19, something that is not considered a threat by U.S. or international health agencies.

“We’ve got a lot of people who don’t know if they are going to sign it,” said Dennis Nuxoll, vice president of federal government affairs for the Western Growers Association. “Some people say they’re not going to sign it and if that means they don’t get the business, then they don’t get the business. It chills trade for us and creates a lot of uncertainty.”

The Chinese government is demanding that importers there attest that the food they buy from around the world does not present a health risk, spurring importers to, in turn, demand the same guarantees from suppliers in the U.S. and elsewhere, according to sources with knowledge of the letters.

It’s not just fruit and vegetables. The Chinese have been reaching out to suppliers around the globe who sell beef, pork, poultry, grain, seafood and other products.

Those letters, say sources, are asking foreign producers to promise that the food they are shipping is free of COVID-19 as well as to inform the Chinese if food production workers test positive for COVID-19.

“The recent move by Chinese authorities to require a statement of undertaking for food importers is not based on any legitimate food safety concern,” Western Growers President & CEO Dave Puglia said in a statement, reacting to dismay among some of the group’s members who received the demands from China. “Our food system is the safest in the world, and the known science behind the transmission of COVID-19 is inconsistent with the Chinese government’s call for more restrictive food safety-related trade measures.”

The Agriculture Transportation Coalition says some of its members fear signing the new assurances that are contained in a General Administration of Customs China form that essentially guarantees that “their exports are free from COVID-19.” Instead, the ATC says that some of its members are sending their own COVID-19 statements on the safety of the food they are exporting.

“While China Customs has not confirmed that these statements are acceptable substitutes for the official form, we are hearing that exporters sending these statements have not encountered any issues so far with their customers clearing cargo in China,” the shippers group said.

Interested in more coverage and insights? Receive a free month of Agri-Pulse or Agri-Pulse West by clicking here.

The Trump administration is not publicly addressing the letters from the Chinese importers, but the USDA and FDA released a vaguely worded statement Wednesday that criticized the “efforts by some countries to restrict global food exports related to COVID-19 transmission are not consistent with the known science of transmission.” For more on that story, click here.

The U.S. may not be engaging China directly on its new demands on imports, COVID-19, but the issue is being taken up quietly in the halls of the World Trade Organization where many countries are complaining, sources tell Agri-Pulse.  

U.S. farmers that are already suffering from “a coronavirus-induced financial hole” cannot afford to lose any more of the Chinese market, said Puglia.

“We are aware that the Trump Administration has objected to China’s actions and request that the administration continue to pressure the Chinese government until it reverses this ill-timed and scientifically indefensible trade barrier,” he said.

For more news, go to: