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China: New ITC Publication on Organic Food Products from China

Chinese imports of organic foods were about US$ 20 million in 2009, a limited amount compared with the size of the population, but the market has been growing rapidly and may become promising for least developed country exporters. This publication has been prepared to provide guidance to exporters of developing countries – mainly from Africa – on accessing new and emerging country markets, such as China.

Cover of the 2011 ITC study on organic food from China

The study provides an initial overview of the Chinese market for organic products, as well as useful inputs for an initial proactive marketing strategy and preparation of the exporter’s sales visit. 

From the executive summary

Chinese organic agriculture began in the late 1980s, driven initially by environmental concerns and later by export opportunities. The sector’s growth was remarkable, reaching over million hectares within five year.

The Chinese government was quick to move to regulate the organic sector through a series of rules and regulations introduced since the mid-1990s. By 2005, compulsory organic standards and supervision systems were introduced for organic certification bodies operating in China, and as a consequence all organic products, including imports, must comply with the national rules and standards.

There is no clear and comprehensive statistical information about the volume and value of organic production in China. Organic production was valued at about US$ 2.4 billion in 2008, of which US$ 500 million went for export and the rest was sold locally. Organic imports were estimated at about US$ 3 million – US$ 8 million per year, and a maximum of US$ 20 million in 2009.

Food safety led Chinese authorities to start introducing rules and regulations for China’s food sector in the early 1990s. National regulations on organic agriculture were first introduced in the early 2000s and the last one was applied in 2005. They require organic certification bodies, inspectors and operators to comply with Chinese national organic standards and certification protocols. Imports of organic products must also meet such national regulations. Because the Chinese organic regulatory system does not yet recognize any other organic systems, inspection and certification of all operation steps must be conducted against Chinese organic standards by inspectors and certifiers directly approved by the Chinese authorities. Currently, there are only 26 organic certifiers who have such approval, and all are based in China.

China’s domestic market in organic products began developing in the mid-2000s and has expanded very rapidly, especially in the past few years when stories of food scandals became prominent. Chinese organic consumers can be divided into eight main groups: white collar families; families with young children; families with health issues; overseas returnees; business people from Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong (China); government officials; young people; and foreigners living in China.

Exporters interested in exporting organic products to China are recommended to:

  • Prepare themselves and their products before making trade contact by ensuring that they have ‘good’ products that are not expensive, taste good and have organic integrity and good and consistent quality. Exporters should also learn about Chinese import rules, including customs and food safety requirements, so that they are familiar with the system and procedures.
  • Organize market access by choosing the right importer-distributors as partners. It is important that exporters find opportunities to meet in person with prospective trade partners, such as by attending international organic trade fairs and/or Chinese organic fairs such as BioFach China, Organic China Expo (OCEX) and China Nutrient & Healthy Food & Organic Products Exhibition (CINHOE).
  • Introduce their products into Chinese markets by working with the Chinese trade partners todesign jointly the sales and marketing plan.Ensure market success through product innovation, focusing especially on product quality and packaging.

Source: International Trade Centre (ITC) (2011): Organic Prodcuts in China. Market Overview. ITC, Geneva

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