It’s all about the safety of pork exports, said Hoang Thanh Van of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Mr Van, who heads up the MARD Department of Breeding, said China has concerns that shipments of pork from Vietnam may be tainted and not be free of drugs such as ractopamine.
Ractopamine is a feed additive that promote leanness in pigs raised for their meat that is commonly used by farmers. Chinese officials are also concerned the program in Vietnam that certifies pork sent to China is free of ractopamine or other banned substances is not up to standard.
Chinese authorities banned the use of ractopamine in livestock in 2002, Mr Van noted. They say meat raised with the drug can cause nausea and diarrhoea in people and be life-threatening to sufferers of heart disease.
The Chinese inspection authority AQSIQ has now notified MARD that it will need to inspect and certify that the Vietnam swine industry meets with the provisions of Chinese Food Safety Law.
Most importantly, the Chinese inspectors will look to see that the Vietnamese industry has systems in place to track pork products from their origin through to its consumption and ensure the proper protocols are in place.
Chinese food safety law requires supermarkets that sell pork to display the name, location and other details pertaining to all their pork suppliers in their store and online. So for Vietnamese pork producers to export to China this information must be readily available and accurate.
Mr Van added that the inspectors will also be looking at the Vietnam government departments and agencies to ensure veterinary and health requirements for pork products to be exported to China are adequate.
In addition, they will want assurance that the proper inspections and quarantine of the meat by Vietnam producers are complied with as well as inspected by government agencies prior to the issuance of export health certificates.
Vietnamese meat exporters and government officials must stay aggressive with their marketing efforts to get the Chinese market officially open to pork exports, Mr Van underscored.
Access to the Chinese market, which consumed 55 million metric tons of pork in 2016, more than any other country across the globe, is vitally important to the long-term sustainability of the swine industry.
Since 2012, China has banned imports of pork from Vietnam.
However, millions of Vietnamese farmers continued after that date to smuggle pork into China on the black market and staked their livelihoods of those exports. Now these farmers are struggling after China began blocking all underground imports from Vietnam based on food safety concerns.
The crackdown on the border trade was a harsh blow as some estimates placed the Vietnamese pork sold on the underground market at 600,000 metric tons for 2016. Now all that excess pork has created a glut, leaving the market with depressed with sales prices as low as US$1 per kilogram.
The price of pork has never been cheaper, said one farmer near Hanoi in northern Vietnam, adding that any rescue efforts to officially open the vital Chinese market may come too late to save many farmers who are going broke.