Dairy victory: China’s new acceptance of whey permeate imports a display of industry triumph

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

China recently announced new standards for dairy permeate imports, a first for the country. ©Getty Images
China recently announced new standards for dairy permeate imports, a first for the country. ©Getty Images

Related tags Dairy China imports Whey

China recently announced new standards for dairy permeate imports, a first for the country and a prime example of how an industry can leverage resources to overcome regulatory challenges, according to a China trade regulations expert.

The new dairy (whey) permeate import standards were announced by China’s National Health Commission (NHC) last month and prescribed the detailed technical requirements of dairy permeate powders exported to China.

This is a first for the country, where previously any such imports were less than direct, i.e. if any were imported, these were referred to by industry using other product names and standards. The new standards indicate that China is now ready to accept imports of the ingredient for food and beverage use.

“The announcement of the standard gives industry a clear regulatory reference to export dairy permeate powder to China and promote international trade,”​ David Ettinger, Managing Partner and Chief Representative of law firm Keller and Heckman’s Shanghai office told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

“The new standard is one of the steps taken by China to fulfill its commitment under the US-China Trade Agreement, relating to Chapter 3 titled Trade in Food and Agricultural Products of the Phase One Economic and Trade Agreement with the U.S that focuses on trade in food and agricultural products.”

Importantly, Ettinger pointed out that this standard was significant as an example of how a food sector can overcome such regulatory challenges with the correct efforts, under the right circumstances.

This is a good example of industry leveraging resources during trade talks to obtain a standard that was important, in this case, to the dairy sector,"​ he said.

“The dairy industry seemingly leveraged the trade talks between US and China, which put additional pressure on China to approve a Chinese standard for the product under the above process - A good example of industry efforts to secure a regulatory success.”

This is significant for foods such as whey permeate powder that previously did not have any applicable regulatory food safety national standards specific to it.

China inspects imported foods based on these, and in the absence of such standards, port authorities and customs would likely not be able to legally permit these into the country without one – a major hindrance for any such trade activity.

“[In] the absence of a Chinese standard, [exporters] probably would find it challenging to export a food, [e.g. whey permeate] to China as the authority at port has no standard to turn to confirming compliance of the product,”​ said Ettinger.

“China has an administrative petition process for one to apply for a Chinese standard (where no existing standard applicable to the food exists), but it is a process that has been employed by the authority in very limited circumstances, for example, Mexican tequilla and of course, the instant case of dairy permeate powder.

"It would be a positive sign to see more results come from this petition process so that the food industry can have new Chinese standards created to fill in regulatory gaps where they may exist”  

Benefits for dairy industry

From an industry perspective, this is a definite boon for the dairy sector as even though these standards were established out of the US-China FTA, they can apply to whey permeate imports from all countries.

This gives international whey permeate producing firms access to a huge potential market where the ingredient is ‘not commonly produced locally as far as we know’​, according to Ettinger.

One such firm is Arla, which ingredients arm Arla Foods Ingredients is one of the world’s largest whey permeate suppliers.

“The opening of the Chinese market to permeate exports is highly significant for the global dairy ingredient industry,”​ said Arla Foods Ingredients Head of Sales Development, Food Henrik Jacob Hjortshoej.

“Demand for permeate is rising fast in China, just as it is across the world. We look forward to working with our customers in China to supply them with the highest quality whey permeate powder for their food and beverage applications.”

As it is, China’s support of increased dairy consumption​ has been prominent, evidenced by its national dairy and dairy product consumption guidelines for the public, and whey could very well become part of these in the future given its dairy base and being high incorporable into everyday food and beverage products.

Due diligence still urged

That said, Ettinger also advised that all companies looking to export whey permeate to China must still do their due diligence to scrutinise the relevant documentation and ensure all technicalities are complied with.

“Companies should fully understand and comply with the local Chinese requirements such as labelling and composition before their export to China. For instance, in the new whey permeate powder standard, the product source such as whey source and cow milk source, needs to be specified in the product name of the label per this new standard,”​ he said.

“Also, the regulatory practice at the entry port of China should be carefully considered and reviewed in advance given that enforcement and interpretation may vary at different ports.”

More information and the full standards document can be found here​ (document in Chinese, on the NHC website).

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