Food and Agricultural Exports to China For Small Businesses: A Complete Guide

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Export food to china

This article is authored by Thuong Tran, of FLEET, on behalf of

The Chinese imported food market is one that is expanding rapidly. Some figures put its value at more than 500 billion USD as of 2014. In order to tap into this potential, it is important to know how to navigate the various regulations and licensure requirements. Some of the most common questions about importing canned and other packaged food into the country follow.


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1. What permits and licensing requirements must be met?

When importing food into China for the first time, it is necessary to include documents such as a customs declaration, bill of lading and invoice. The original label of the food, as well as its translated version, must be included when a food is being imported into the country for the first time.

The Ministry of Commerce, People’s Republic of China (MOFCOM) does not require packaged foods to have a license if these food items are free from import restrictions.

A complete list of the documents that are necessary for the exporter to prepare includes the following:

  • invoice
  • cargo manifest
  • certificate of origin
  • inspection certificate
  • bill of lading
  • order confirmation
  • label sample that has been translated into Chinese
  • bill of sale
  • packing list
  • health certificate for exportation
  • shipping notice to the importer from the sender
  • label sample that is compliant with Chinese regulations

A Chinese label must be included along with the names of any agents, importers or distributors. A copy of the business license of these entities must accompany the food item. Evidence of any certificates, awards, special ingredients and the like must also be included.

The label is extremely important and must contain the correct information. Additionally, the food products should be packed in a manner that allows the importer to affix the label effectively.

A complete list of the required label elements includes:

  • Each word, brand, description and image that describes the product
  • Its expiration date
  • name and address of the importer who is distributing it
  • manufacturer’s name
  • Every additive and substance used to prepare the food item
  • country of origin
  • storage instructions and dates
  • the date of manufacture
  • the relationships between the unit of packaged food and its net weight

2. What is a Certificate of Origin and its role?

A Certificate of Origin is a document used extensively during international trade. Its primary use is to establish the place of export.

While the Chinese government uses the Certificate of Origin for many different things — such as a tool for decisions regarding tariffs and for tracking trade statistics – small businesses also need to know that this is a valuable tool for their uses as well.

Using the Certificate of Origin allows a company to provide evidence that their product is superior in some form when compared to others within the industry.

3. What criteria does the customer in China need to meet?

The Chinese government makes no distinction between importers that are owned by the Chinese or by foreigners. Each must establish and register a business scope that includes their business activities regarding both importing and distributing the food.

Importers also must be registered with MOFCOM as a foreign trade operator.

If the food product to be imported is on the “List of Food Imports Subject to Enterprise Registration,” the producer need to be registered with the State Certification and Accreditation Administration.

Most of the food contained within this list has additional safety requirements such as health products, meat and dairy products. Both the exporter and the importer must register each shipment with the Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) online to facilitate its tracking.

4. Which ports should producers export to?

The AQSIQ is the agency tasked with supervising all food products and drinks — as well as thousands of other categories of products — within China.

This includes those that are imported into the country. It has 19 internal departments as well as 15 affiliates and has a presence at all sea and land ports around the country. Each food item that enters China for the first time is inspected by an AQSIQ official.

Once this takes place and AQSIQ approves of the food product’s label, a two-year Food Label Verification Certificate and a three-year sanitary certificate are issued.

Although the process a first-time food importer is invariably complex, it often becomes easier during subsequent
attempts. The regulations required by AQSIQ may not be applied equally across all ports and by all officers and bureaus.

It is wise to allow ample time for the importation process as well as funds. Health foods, for example, can take as long as 19 months to be issued the relevant registration. For first time importers, the review and Customs process can take up to 30 days to complete.

5. Are there any benefits to importing into Hong Kong?

Hong Kong is a dynamic port that provides a gateway to the rest of China as well as other Asian countries. As of 2014, the city imported $543 billion, a figure that made it the eighth largest global importer.

Additionally, according to the Ease of Doing Business index established by the World Bank, Hong Kong is ranked fourth, making it one of the easiest ports for companies importing products to do business with.

In 2003, Hong Kong and Mainland China signed a trade agreement, the Closer Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), that is designed to further open up Mainland China markets to imports that come through Hong Kong.

Hong Kong does not collect any customs tariffs on those products that are imported into the city. In 2010, the
Pacific Bridge Initiative (PBI) was signed between Hong Kong and the United States.

The purpose of this initiative was to encourage businesses in the United States to use Hong Kong’s port as a method of successfully importing to Mainland China and the rest of Asia.

Hong Kong has a growing infrastructure base that provides the foundation for excellent opportunities for importing packaged foods into the city. Perhaps most important of all, Hong Kong emphasizes the free flow of information between principals involved in international trade.

6. How can help businesses looking to export food products to China?

Fleet is an online marketplace for international logistics. We have a network of hundreds of experienced freight forwarders who provide not only competitive prices but also excellent customer services to help you exporting your food products to China.

Fleet is where you can complete all the transaction for your shipment online: from getting quotes for your shipment, booking forwarders and conveniently paying them online, to managing your shipping documentation and checking your shipment status online.

Shipping via the Fleet platform not only saves you money and time, it also takes off the hassle every importer and exporter has to go through when it comes to international shipping & customs clearance for food products.

So join Fleet and enjoy the unprecedented convenience of shipping your goods internationally.

  • (USA & EU)


    • Request a free 30-minute call with Ivan Malloci to learn how we can help you with:
    • Find product requirements
    • Certification and labeling
    • Lab testing


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    Sources: Our articles are written in part based on publicly available information, and our own practical experience relating to product compliance. These are some of the primary sources we use:

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