January 2, 2004


Hong Kong Bans US Beef Products


In the wake of the U.S. announcement of a presumptive case of BSE, the Hong Kong government decided on Dec. 24 to "suspend the import of U.S. beef and beef products into Hong Kong temporarily as a precautionary measure." Products already on the water will not be affected. Import licenses will be issued to shipments which are proved to have been on the water prior to Dec. 24.


Since Hong Kong does not have any specific legislative regulations over processed beef products and animal feeds, the Hong Kong government has advised Hong Kong traders to stop importing processed beef products and cow bone meal used in animal feed from the United States. However, the Hong Kong government has not yet clarified its position whether it would allow shipments in if traders choose to test its policy by action, the press release said.


(The Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department has completed a survey of all animal feed importers and found that animal feed imports from the United States do not include cow bone meal. A few brands of animal feeds for cats contain bone meal from the United States, but none of the products come from the State of Washington. Therefore, animal feed from the United States is not a concern in Hong Kong, according to the Hong Kong government official.)


The Hong Kong government did not recall U.S. beef products from the market on the grounds that all beef products were imported with valid and sufficient health certificates certifying the wholesomeness of the food. Although the Hong Kong government stated clearly that shipments departing the United States after Dec. 24 (Hong Kong date) would not be accepted, officials have exercised discretionary power to release products if Hong Kong importers showed documents proving that the U.S. exporters had consigned shipments to forwarders before the deadline. However, Hong Kong government officials have indicated that Hong Kong will not accept products which were rejected from other ports.


The importation of dairy products is not subject to temporary suspension.


The Macao government also banned all beef imports from the United States since Dec. 26. However, they have not yet decided whether to re-open the border for products already on the water prior to Dec. 26. Macao traders usually obtain U.S. beef supplies through Hong Kong importers, the press release said. Presently, Macao traders can no longer receive U.S. beef shipments from their Hong Kong suppliers.


Market Reaction


In the area of retail sales in supermarkets, two Japanese stores pulled U.S. beef off the shelves, following after similar action taken by their counterparts in Japan. Most supermarkets will continue to sell U.S. beef while stocks last. Some have indicated to their suppliers that they are not going to renew any orders.


The overall stock of U.S. beef can last for one to two months in Hong Kong. Importers have started to look for alternate sources, primarily Australia, New Zealand and Brazil. The BSE case was widely reported on Dec. 25. The focus was on Hong Kong government's temporary ban on U.S. beef instead of on food safety.


The follow-up news was on the contention between the United States and Canada with regard to the origin of the cow in question. In general, Hong Kong consumers have not overreacted to the news. They see it as another BSE case similar to what recently happened in Japan and Canada.