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Tan Sri Ong Ka Ting and NHFPC Vice Minister Chen Xiaohong meet over bird’s nest issue

Beijing, March 19:  The Prime Minister’s Special Envoy to China Tan Sri Ong Ka Ting held discussion with the Vice Minister Chen Xiaohong of China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) here this morning over the issue relating to the export of Malaysian bird’s nests to China.

The meeting was an immediate follow-up to a consensus reached between Tan Sri Ong and Mr Zhi Shuping, Minister of General Administration on Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, on the export of raw unclean bird’s nest to China the previous day. The consensus was a breakthrough.

The meeting with the NHFPC, which started at 9am this morning, focused on China’s required standard on the import of raw bird’s nests and the permissible level of nitrite on bird’s nest products.

Mr Chen noted that this was the first major bilateral discussion for NHFPC which was set up only three days ago. He said he had been entrusted by Minister Li Bin to tackle the bird’s nest issue and this showed that China had taken the issue seriously.

Those at the meeting included senior officials of the National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment (CFSA) as well as representatives from other relevant departments on the Chinese side, and on the Malaysian side with Tan Sri Ong was the Malaysian Ambassador to China Dato’ Iskandar Sarudin and senior officials of the Health Ministry and Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry as well as other officials.

Tan Sri Ong in his address explained the dilemma faced by Malaysian bird’s nest operators in the past two years and raised three main points:

  • Malaysia will review the 30ppm nitrite standard in bird’s nest products and the Malaysian Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment will submit fresh evidence based on scientific examination to ensure that Malaysian bird’s nests are safe for consumption.
  • Malaysia proposes the reclassification of raw unclean bird’s nest into another export category as “unprocessed bird’s nest raw products” and will hold discussions with relevant Chinese authorities over this new proposal.

Tan Sri Ong explained that raw unclean bird’s nests should be regarded as unprocessed raw products and should be exempted from the same standard as food products. This is because raw unclean bird’s nests cannot be consumed directly without having been cleaned and processed according to certain standard procedures.

He said that Malaysia was ready with relevant test results of samples for discussion with Chinese specialists. He added that 95 per cent of bird’s nest operators in Malaysia are involved in the production of raw bird’s nests and as such, it has vast implications.

Because of the urgency, he said Malaysia hoped that the Chinese side would agree to further explore this new proposal. It would be of great help to Malaysian bird’s nest operators if positive results could be achieved in the meetings of specialists in the next one or two days. In the past, the Chinese government had never agreed to include the import of raw unclean bird’s nests in any of their agenda.

  •   The first batch of 20 enterprises involved in the export of raw clean bird’s nests listed in the original protocol will carry out their registration, on-site inspection and auditing according to the original plan as soon as possible so that they can resume their export of raw clean bird’s nests to China soonest.

Vice Minister Mr Chen Xiaohong in his reply said China fully understood the requests made by Malaysia and China was taking such requests seriously. It is prepared to work together with Malaysia, giving mutual support and offering close co-ordination with the Malaysia sides. He said China valued and cherished the friendly relationship with Malaysia. This basic stance remained steadfast, he said.

He believed that with close and active co-ordination, China and Malaysia had the wisdom and capacity to resolve the bird’s nest issue satisfactorily. He commended the Malaysian government for being caring and responsible in that it had stepped in to help when the bird’s nest operators were in difficulties. The Chinese side will be supportive to the requests made by the Malaysia. Likewise, the Chinese Government had also taken food hygiene and safety very seriously, he said.

Me Chen made it clear that the importation of unprocessed raw bird’s nests which was raised by specialists for discussion would involve import regulations, quality inspection and quarantine. He said while the health department set its standards, the commerce department dealt with trade and other departments dealt with production and processing. As such, there should be discussions involving all parties in order to work out an agreed standard.

As this was the first discussion between Malaysia and China on the export of unprocessed raw bird’s nests, both sides hoped that the specialists could exchange their views fully on the issue in order to reach a consensus for a clear and viable solution.

The delegation headed by Tan Sri Ong is scheduled to meet relevant departments in China involved in the import of bird’s nests from March 19 to 21 to work out a solution, in the interest of both Malaysia and China, for an early resumption of bird’s nest export to China.

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