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U.S. food exporters sign safety declarations in lieu of virus-free guarantees

Karl Plume

By Karl Plume

June 26 (Reuters) - U.S. food and feed exporters are shipping goods to China with letters assuring the safety of their cargo in lieu of official declarations requested by Chinese authorities that guarantee coronavirus-free shipments, a U.S. agricultural export group said on Friday.

The commitment statements, drafted by the Agriculture Transportation Coalition (AgTC), are meant only to assure importers that shipments have been harvested, processed and handled consistent with industry safety standards and guidelines from medical experts.

The move comes after China's customs authority last week asked food exporters to the country to sign official declarations their produce is not contaminated by the novel coronavirus.

Chinese demands for the guarantees have roiled the food and agriculture sector and are causing some shippers to forego the China trade, U.S. produce growers group said on Friday.

"You're not signing your name to a guarantee that they have no coronavirus. Nobody can do that. Coronavirus does not live on food or plants," said Peter Friedmann, executive director of AgTC, which represents mostly exporters of U.S. agricultural products in shipping containers.

Exporters cannot guarantee that cargo will remain free of the virus after it leaves their facilities, Friedmann said.

"If a Chinese customs inspector has the virus and he handles something, someone can come back later and say that shipment has coronavirus," he said.

Chinese customs officials have not confirmed that the commitment statements are acceptable replacements for their official declarations, but no AgTC members have reported any related shipping issues to date. (Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)