Tan Sri Ong Ka Ting, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy to China, who has been appointed by the Cabinet to lead a delegation to China to resolve the long-standing bird’s nest issue, said there had been breakthroughs in the negotiation.
His team, comprising senior officials of the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry arrived in Beijing on March 17 and held crucial meetings with Chinese relevant authorities on the bird’s nest issue. Officials from the Malaysian embassy joined them in Beijing.
Tan Sri Ong presented the case of Malaysian bird’s nest operators, their dilemma and the socio-economic impact resulted from the import ban of Malaysian bird’s nests to China.
Crucial meetings were held with Minister Zhi Shuping of China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, Vice Minister Chen Xiaohong of the National Health and Family Planning Commission on March 18 and 19.
Top leaders of these two authorities were able to gain a deeper understanding of the problems faced by Malaysian bird’s nest operators during the meetings.
They were sympathetic to the serious consequences to the bird’s nest trade and the livelihood of the bird’s nest operators due to the two-year import ban imposed by China and thus, they pledged to deal with the issue as an urgent case. Instructions have been given to carry out immediate negotiations and follow-ups without further delays.
Tan Sri Ong, on behalf of the Malaysian side, raised four vital points during his meetings with Chinese top officials. They are:
- Allow the export of raw unclean bird’s nest products to China without being subjected to the stringent standard applicable to foodstuff. Specialists from both countries will hold discussions to work out a standard which is fair, scientific and practical in order to allow the export of raw unclean bird’s nest products to China.
- Make it clear to the Chinese authorities that the Malaysian Government will carry out a revision based on scientific method the maximum 30ppm nitrite content in processed clean bird’s nests.
- Invite the Chinese side to send its team to Malaysia as soon as possible to inspect and audit the data and test results submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry so that certification can be given to Malaysian enterprises to expedite their exports of processed clean bird’s nests.
- Suggest that the Malaysian and Chinese sides to hold discussions as soon as possible to work out a solution to resolve the export of raw unclean bird’s nests to China.
During the meetings on March 19 and 20, the Malaysian team and specialists from AQSIQ and NHFPC held exhaustive discussions on the nitrite content of processed clean bird’s nests, its safety level and import procedures. A consensus was reached, based on requests by Malaysians, for NHFPC to work out a new safety standard for processed raw bird’s nests to be approved by the higher authorities.
On March 21, upon the request by the Malaysian side, key officials of relevant AQSIQ departments were sent for discussion with the Malaysian side. Tan Sri Ong led the Malaysian team to ensure its success.
Mr Lin Wei, Deputy Head of the Chinese Export and Import Food Safety Bureau, explained the work procedure of his bureau and requested relevant information, especially the risk evaluation report of bird’s nest so that they could work out a set of criteria for their import into China.
The Chinese side offered full co-ordination on the registration and auditing of Malaysian bird’s nest processing enterprises. It will organise and arrange as soon as possible relevant experts and specialists to inspect and audit relevant information and data submitted by Malaysia in Beijing.
It was made clear by the Chinese side that calling for a meeting of experts and specialists to Beijing to go through such information and data was on the instruction given after the meeting between Tan Sri Ong and Minister Zhi. This was unprecedented and judging on the progress, it could be done in early April.
Tan Sri Ong in summarising said his mission had been completed according to plan because of the long-standing friendly co-operation between Malaysia and China. It was also due to Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Najib’s close attention to the dilemma faced by bird’s nest operators in that he had thrice raised the issue with Chinese top leaders.
China has agreed to deal with the bird’s nest issue as an exceptional case and it hopes that the dilemma faced by Malaysian bird’s nest operators could be resolved as soon as possible.
On his return, Tan Sri Ong briefed the Prime Minister on the progress made in Beijing and Dato’ Sri Najib was happy and grateful of the sympathy shown by the Chinese side and their co-operation in working out a solution. He was satisfied with the progress and the breakthroughs made in Beijing.
The most important breakthroughs are the consensus achieved based on mutual respect and understanding and taken into consideration of the interests of both countries: the Chinese side accepted a Malaysian proposal on the export of raw unclean bird’s nests and also agreed to send a delegation to Malaysia as soon as possible to study and audit the bird nest processing industry in order to expedite the export of processed bird’s nests to China.
These are the two breakthroughs achieved in Beijing and Tan Sri Ong has asked officials of the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry to follow through in close co-ordination with the Chinese authorities to make the necessary preparations.
Since the surfacing of the bird’s nest issue, there have been contradicting views expressed by different organisations. As such, Tan Sri Ong felt that since headways have been made in the negotiation, the focus should now be on follow-up work in the best interest of the Malaysian bird’s nest industry. He hoped that all parties involved would co-operate and work for a common objective.
He said that besides briefing the Prime Minister, he would arrange for meetings with different organisations involved in the bird’s nest industry to brief them on the achievements made in Beijing.