To get your products into China, you'll need to navigate China’s customs and border regulations, as well as meeting local labelling rules and product safety standards. Chinese regulations can change rapidly, and application can vary across ports and regions - so this definitely isn’t an area where you can do it yourself.
Make sure you’re in close contact and getting detailed advice from your Chinese in-market partners, right from the very start of the import process.
- Navigating China's food and beverage market
- Navigating China's regulations for exporting wine
- Exporting wine to China: Tips from Shanghai
Customs and border regulations
In most cases, your Chinese importer or distributor will help you to pull together the documents you need for customs clearance, and provide them to Chinese Customs.
The standard documents required at the border include:
Certificates of Origin
- customs declarations
- sales contracts
- bills of lading
- commercial invoices
- packing lists.
You might need to supply a range of other documents depending on the product you’re sending into China. These may include import permits and Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine inspection (AQSIQ) clearance. This clearance is often on the basis of export certificates from the relevant New Zealand agency, such as the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).
Consult your importer or distributor well in advance of shipment to make sure you know what’s required. You can also get in touch with NZTE for advice.
Most products entering China don’t need an import licence if they are registered with China's Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM).
An import permit may be needed from AQSIQ or other specialist departments to import food products such as meat, dairy, fish and other aquatic products.
Registration for imports is the responsibility of your Chinese importer, but they may ask you for supporting documents from New Zealand.
Generally, items that face some form of import licensing or permit procedures are:
- all products with import restrictions - including chemicals that may be used for military weapons, toxicants, drugs and ozone-depleting materials
- products that are automatically licensed but are subject to monitoring - including poultry, vegetable oil, wine, tobacco, asbestos, copper ore and concentrates, coal, terephthalic acid, plastic raw material, natural rubber, synthetic rubber, waste paper, synthetic fibre cloth, cellulose diacetate filament tow, copper, aluminium, mechanic and electrical products, iron ore, crude oil, processed oil, alumina, chemical fertiliser, pesticide, sliced or chipped polyester, car tyres, terylene, steel and steel billet
- food, fibre, and animal feed products considered to have some health risk associated with them.
Normally, MOFCOM or other agencies may ask you to provide samples for selective examination.
Check early on if your Chinese agent or distributor has an import license. If they don’t have an import license, they’ll need to subcontract out to a specialised importer - which creates another failure point in your export chain, more paperwork, and higher costs. For example, the importer will need to present the documents to Customs for clearance, and then hand over to the agent or distributor to complete the process. All of this can lead to delays in delivery and payment.
Tariffs and rules of origin
Products of New Zealand origin entering China can claim tariff advantages under the New Zealand-China Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
For more information current on tariffs for New Zealand products entering China, refer to the tariff finder provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT).
To claim tariff advantages under the New Zealand-China FTA, your products need to be certified as meeting specific rules which define ‘New Zealand origin’.
Food safety and biosecurity requirements
For information on regulations governing animal products and food inspection, sanitary and certification requirements, refer to MPI's Overseas Market Access Requirements (OMAR) for China.
Note that you’ll need to obtain a password from MPI to see some of these requirements, including those for dairy.
For information on China's zoosanitary, phytosanitary inspection and certification requirements for live animals, animal germplasm and plant and forestry product exports to China, contact MPI's Biosecurity division.
Officials from China Inspection and Quarantine (CIQ) are responsible for inspecting product labels at the port of entry.
Before packaged products are imported or distributed into China, labelling verification must be sought from CIQ. This takes one to two weeks. When going through this procedure, you should consider specifying in your contract with the importer or distributor that you retain 'ownership' of the label after approval. This will make it easier to work with other distributors in the future, should the need arise.
Labelling for food products
To get labelling approval for your food products, you’ll need to supply the following:
- a completed Application Form of Import Food Labelling Verification
- a brief explanation of the original English label in Chinese.
According to China’s National Standard for the Labelling of Foods, most food labels should include the following mandatory details:
- name and trademark of the product
- net weight and solid content
- name, address and telephone number of the manufacturer
- production date (year/month/date) and storage instructions
- packer / distributor (name and address)
- batch number
- country of origin
- quality guarantee and/or storage period (year/month/date)
- usage instructions.
Additional requirements may apply to some types of foods – see our notes on Chinese product and safety standards below.
Temporary adhesive labels are banned under Chinese labelling rules, but some foreign exporters continue to attach simple Chinese-language stickers to the outside of existing packaging.
This is done either prior to delivery to China, or by the Chinese importer under the supervision of the CIQ in the nominated bonded warehouse.
Using adhesive labels is a risky option, and the letter of the law may be more stringently enforced in future by Chinese authorities. Always consult closely with your importer or distributor.
Meeting product and safety standards
China’s various product and safety standards sometimes overlap or contradict each another, and it can be hard to track down official English versions of some standards. It’s a good idea to get professional help in this area, rather than trying to make sense of it on your own.
There are a range of consultants who can help you deal with Chinese standards and certification processes - contact NZTE for a list of potential contacts.