By HAN MENG
China’s WTO entry further globalizes its economy. With the increase
of trade contacts between China and foreign countries, import safety and
export barriers emerge unexpectedly. The information channels between
governments at different levels and between different industries, along
with import and export alerts and protection and handling systems, await
Import safety covers economics, resources and the environment, and includes
grain safety, animal and plant safety, environmental safety and life insurance
in rural areas. Invasion by non-native species and the dangers of genetically
modified plants are two grave issues.
Invasion by Non-Native Species
In late 2002, carnivorous piranhas, mainly from the drainage area of
the Amazon River in South America, were discovered in many provinces,
autonomous regions and municipalities in China. This caused great concern,
and fears that the carnivorous piranhas would cause an enormous ecological
disaster in lakes and rivers in south China.
An invasion by non-native organisms means species entering a new area
from their original area and causing economic loss and ecological disasters.
The increase in trade brings not only various species that we can enjoy,
but also numerous negative effects against which we should be vigilant.
China has a vast territory where many non-native species can find suitable
habitats, making the country vulnerable to invasion. Non-native organisms,
including plants, animals and microorganisms, have entered almost all
of China’s ecological system, such as forests, agricultural areas,
wetlands, grassland, urban residential areas, and most seriously, rivers
Currently there are 37 species of alien animals and 90 species of alien
plants in China. In the 1950s, China promoted water hyacinths, introduced
from foreign countries, as pig feed. Now, the plants block rivers and
hurt shipping, irrigation and aquaculture, greatly damaging China’s
water ecological systems and polluting the water in rivers and lakes.
Another example is bullfrogs from North America. Fleeing into the wild
of China, they now threaten local animals because of their adaptability,
high reproduction rate, varied feeding habits and lack of natural enemies.
As a result, they have been added to China’s alien organism invasion
Non-native species have damaged China’s environment and its economy,
causing over 57.4 billion yuan in economic losses per year.
On the other hand, China has also successfully introduced animal and
plant species from abroad, such as maize, tomatoes, Tilapia and rainbow
trout. These species have provided numerous economic benefits.
Introducing alien organisms has both advantages and disadvantages. Scientific
investigation and strict approval procedures are the key steps to stop
any invasion. We should not abandon our efforts simply because of a few
At present, China lacks laws restricting the import of foreign species.
For example, no law in China bans the import of carnivorous piranhas.
China needs to establish and improve its ecological safety mechanism to
fight against the introduction of such species. Measures should be taken
to establish and improve laws and regulations overseeing the management
of the import of alien organisms. Efficient monitoring systems must be
set up. A list of prohibited species should be made public and training
on the differentiation of species, prevention measures and risk analysis
skills, and crisis management should be strengthened. To increase public
awareness, efforts should be made to publicize the harm caused by non-native
China should undertake a nationwide investigation to discover the quantities,
distribution and effects of foreign species. Based on the investigation,
a database should be established to analyze their effect on China’s
ecosystem and native species. An evaluation system must be devised to
judge their impact on China’s ecosystem.
The risk from biotechnology comes primarily from genetically engineered
Genetically engineered plants and foods have caused serious controversy.
Some experts believe that the toxins in genetically modified crops can
poison and even cause cancer, deformity or mutation. As of yet, though,
no scientific discovery can back up such claims.
China imports around $1 billion of genetically modified soybeans annually
from the United States, about the same amount as China’s total
production. China’s soybean processing enterprises, especially
oil extracting factories, prefer to use the genetically modified soybeans
due to their high oil content and low price. The Secretary of U.S. Department
of Agriculture visited China at the end of July 2002 specifically to discuss
the export of soybeans to China. According to a newly passed bill, the
U.S. Government will increase allocations to agriculture by nearly 80
percent. This will further reduce the price of genetically modified soybeans.
The Chinese Government should take measures to protect the interest of
Chinese soybean growers and soybean processing enterprises. The decisions
of whether China should develop genetically modified soybeans to meet
the demands of the market, and how to solve international trade disputes,
should be made soon.
Around 20 million tons of genetically engineered foods enter China annually,
but most Chinese consumers do not know that what they eating has been
modified. Government departments should establish systems to force manufacturers
to label genetically modified foods.
After the first year of China’s WTO accession, the “green
barrier” remains the biggest problem facing export of China’s
agricultural produce. The European Union has set restrictions on livestock
from China, Japan has strengthened inspections on vegetables imported
from China, and the Republic of Korea and the United States have increased
their limits on Chinese exports of aquatic products. In 2002, cases of
Chinese agricultural products being refused, detained, suspended and even
rejected by developed countries are much more common than in previous
years, mainly because residues of veterinary medicines, pesticides and
heavy metals exceed their standards. Data from the United Nations shows
that approximately $7.4 billion of China’s export commodities,
including agricultural products, were refused due to this “green
China has long had a comparative advantage in terms of price in labor-intensive
farm produce. In recent years, trade protectionism has risen because the
world economy remains in the doldrums. Food safety has become the main
excuse for developed countries to refuse China’s agricultural exports.
Some countries have set unfair and discriminative “green barriers”
on China’s export products, some of which are stricter than international
standards. In inspecting China’s chickens, Japan sets indexes much
higher than on those imported from the United States and other countries.
Meanwhile, we must be aware that compared with developed countries, China
lags behind in areas of science and technology, management, ecological
environmental protection, farmers’ educational quality and organizational
level. It is necessary for China to carefully analyze the quality of its
products and actively develop “green food” to break through
the “green barriers,” and to expand China’s agricultural
export channels. Meanwhile, an agricultural export service system should
be established to provide international key data and market information
for Chinese export enterprises. The roles of guild organizations, such
as chambers of import and export, should be brought into full play. It
is imperative to devise rules and regulations to standardize operation
and strengthen communications with foreign organizations.
In the future, the international trade environment will become more complicated.
Since China is still a new WTO member, some have not yet responded to
China’s entry. Once more agricultural products are exported to
these countries, they will take measures to protect their domestic industries.
China should be aware of this and devise corresponding solutions.