US pet food and treat manufacturers may soon reap the benefits of improved access to several export markets thanks to a trade agreement with China and a new online export certification portal.

Exporting pet food products to China is expected to become clearer and more streamlined thanks to a new protocol released by the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The protocol went into effect June 15, 2020. This action is part of the continuing progress to implement the US-China Phase One Economic and Trade Agreement.

“This significant achievement means United States pet food makers now have meaningful access to one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing pet food markets," commented Peter Tabor, vice president of regulatory and international affairs for Pet Food Institute (PFI).

US pet food manufacturers have faced significant roadblocks exporting to the China market partly due to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, or mad-cow disease) and avian influenza concerns as well as facility registration hurdles. Tabor explained that a couple years of tough talks and negotiations at the policy level paved the way to address the technical issues blocking imports of US-manufactured pet food and treats to China.

“From the US perspective, the restrictions weren’t science based,” Tabor said. “When discussions started at the policy level, that opened the conversation to the science at the technical level, which led to the new trade agreements with China.”

Tabor noted that USDA data indicated US pet food and treat exports to China in 2019 were around $6 million. According to Tabor, the size of the Chinese pet food market combined with the positive reputation of US manufacturers could represent the potential for $300 million annually in US pet food and treat exports to China.

The process to receive approval to export products to China could take several months, Tabor said, and requires US processing facilities to be inspected and approved by APHIS for export. Additionally, products must be registered with China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. Tabor suggests that US processors should view exporting to China as a long-term commitment. The country of China is made up of many different markets and Tabor recommends that US pet food and treat processors establish ties with Chinese importers and distributors who will guard a company’s brand and treat it as their own.

In addition to export access to China, a new streamlined process for export certificates is expected to improve access to other international markets such as Brazil.

The US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) on June 22 announced the launch of a new online system that will enable animal food, drug and device manufacturers to apply for, track and receive export certificates electronically for the first time.

The FDA anticipates that the newly available electronic certificates will help facilitate exports by assisting industry in fulfilling importing country requirements for certification by CVM of CVM-regulated animal products. The CVM Export Certification Application and Tracking System (CVM eCATS) will also provide a tool for foreign governments to verify the authenticity of export certificates provided to them by industry.

Manufacturers exporting products from the United States are often asked by foreign customers or foreign governments to supply a “certificate” for products regulated by the FDA. The FDA’s export certification provides the agency’s official attestation concerning a product’s regulatory or marketing status, based on available information at the time the FDA issues the certificate.

“With an increasing number of international regulatory bodies requiring Good Manufacturing Practice certificates from manufacturers to document their compliance, it was imperative that the United States establish a mechanism for obtaining such a certificate,” said Constance Cullman, president and chief executive officer of the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA). “AFIA has been pushing for this process that will allow the continued flow of animal food products to our international buyers and stem the ongoing loss of millions of dollars in missed trade opportunities. Thanks to the hard work of the staff at the FDA CVM, animal food manufacturers in all 50 states, not just the dozen states that already had processes for issuing GMP certificates, will have the ability to obtain these certificates.”

Brazil has required GMP certificates for over a decade. Without a mechanism in place for a US federal authority to issue GMP certificates, only manufacturers operating in 12 states with a state-based GMP certification program could export their products to Brazil. Inconsistencies across the state-issued certificates also caused confusion and highlighted the need for a federal program as more countries begin requiring certification.

Mexico, the feed industry’s largest export destination, is expected to implement a GMP certificate requirement soon. Without this program, over $1.6 billion in exports to Mexico would be at risk.

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) gave the FDA the authority to issue and charge fees for export certificates for animal food; however, the agency opted to delay issuing the certificates until all-sized manufacturing facilities were required to be in compliance with FSMA’s CGMP regulations and could be inspected. As of last October, all-sized facilities must comply with these regulations and inspections are ongoing. Once all facilities were in compliance, AFIA sent a letter last fall urging the FDA to move forward on this process.

The new portal and electronic process will reduce the amount of time it takes for a manufacturer to apply for and receive export certificates.

This new tool will also simplify the process for applying for multiple certificates and enable foreign governments to verify the authenticity of a manufacturer’s export certificate via the website, enabling faster import processing.

“An export certificate provides foreign governments with information about a product's regulatory or marketing status in the US,” said Steven Solomon, DVM, director of the CVM. “With this new system, we will be able to electronically process applications from industry for Certificates of Exportability (COE), Certificates to Foreign Government (CFG), Certificates of Free Sale (COFS), Certificates of a Pharmaceutical Product (CPP), and Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP) Certificates.”

Solomon said the launch of CVM eCATS is part of the agency’s “continued efforts to enhance trade of important animal products and to ensure efficient and effective import processing so these products can reach foreign markets expeditiously.”

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