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Chinese UK cheese export ban will be 'lifted soon': Defra

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By Mark Astley+

Last updated the 22-May-2014 at 11:49 GMT

Two weeks into a Chinese suspension of British cheese exports, the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has little to say on the issue but believes the ban will be "lifted soon."

Approached by for an update on the temporary trade block, a Defra spokesperson said that it is still working with the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Chinese officials to re-establish the flow of cheese exports from the UK.

Last month, China slapped a temporary ban on British cheese exports after health officials from the country identified “issues related to maintenance, air sanitation, raw milk transport temperatures and chemical storage” at a single, unidentified UK cheese plant.

The ban will remain in place until all UK cheese plants exporting to China have been audited, this time by local authorities. 

With assistance from the FSA, which is "working with local authorities in the compliance inspections", Defra is coordinating with Chinese officials in an attempt to speed up the process.

“We’re working on it,” said the Defra spokesperson. “We are in touch with Chinese officials at the moment.”

“We’re still very hopeful that we’ll have it lifted soon.”

“On deadline”

Britain currently exports around 11.5m tonnes of cheese to China each year.

Dairy UK, which represents the interests of the entire British dairy supply chain, told that at the moment it and the impacted cheese exporters are waiting for word from Defra.

"Defra and the FSA are working to ensure trade flow can resume as soon as possible," said a Dairy UK spokesperson. "Right now, there is nothing to add. We're waiting for news from Defra."

Despite the lack of an update, the organisation insists that efforts to overturn the ban have not fallen behind schedule.

"We were told anything from a few days to a couple of weeks, so it is still on deadline," the spokesperson said.

China legislation

The export ban was implemented in May following audits undertaken prior to the introduction of new Chinese legislation.

Under the rule change, which came into force on May 1, only dairy products manufactured at facilities approved by the Chinese Certification and Accreditation Administration (CNCA) are permitted to export into the Asian country.

British cheese exporters are not the only ones to have been impacted by the new rules.

In March, a Chinese audit of 13 New Zealand infant formula manufacturers, in advance of the May 1 rule change, found that “all but one…have some actions they need to undertake before registration will be complete.”

Earlier this month, a US ice cream manufacturer expressed its "utter disappointment"  in the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) system that was designed to help dairies in the country meet the new Chinese legislation.

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