Chinese regulations aimed at stopping the Zika virus from entering its borders threaten to impede U.S. agricultural exports.
The U.S. was recently added to a list of countries covered by Chinese rules that require shipping containers to be quarantined and treated for mosquitoes, which transmit the birth defect-causing virus.
“It is going to be burdensome. It’s going to add a lot of cost and burden to U.S. exports,” said Abigail Struxness, program manager of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition.
Last year, total U.S. agricultural exports to China topped $20 billion.
At this point, it appears that Chinese customs officials are offering to fumigate incoming containers for a fee, or accept certificates stating that containers were fumigated prior to shipping, Struxness said.
It’s unclear whether the regulations will apply to refrigerated cargo, which often travels at temperatures low enough to kill the insects, she said.
Agricultural exporters are also unsure which fumigation methods are required by the Chinese, or which U.S. agency is responsible for the certification, she said.
The Agriculture Transportation Coalition is still trying to assess the added costs and delays resulting from the rules, as well as how they will impact U.S. competitiveness, Struxness said.
Agricultural shippers are concerned about how fumigation will affect food-grade commodities and organic crops, she said. “That’s another thing we need to figure out.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the only state to experience locally transmitted cases of Zika through mosquitoes is Florida. Locally transmitted cases of Zika have also occurred in the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has issued a notice stating agency officials are discussing the regulations and acceptable documentation with their counterparts in China.
The notice states that Zika is a human health issue, not a phytosanitary problem, which means APHIS officials cannot validate mosquito treatments on phytosanitary certificates.
USDA’s position is troubling for John Szczepanski, director of the U.S. Forage Export Council, because it will likely delay a comprehensive U.S. response to the Chinese Zika regulations.
“The people who could help us are saying mosquitoes aren’t under their jurisdiction,” he said.
The notice put out by APHIS would indicate that USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service is the appropriate agency to deal with the problem — except that it doesn’t employ any entomologists, Szczepanski said. “It adds to the frustration of agricultural exporters.”
China is an export market for alfalfa grown in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California, he said.
The risk is that without uniformity, agricultural exporters will come up with their own individual treatment methods and certifications, adding to the confusion, he said. “Exporters want to do the right thing, but they don’t know exactly what to do.”