State news agency Xinhua reported last month that officials from China Customs had arrested 33 suspects involved in a nationwide smuggling ring, involving the illicit sale of US$32.6 million’s worth of beef from the USA.
"A team of 260 anti-smuggling police in Dalian, Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou caught the suspects in a unified crackdown in January," said a bulletin from the state mouthpiece, quoting Customs officials from the coastal city of Dalian in north-east China’s Liaoning Province.
According to the report, the suspects "allegedly smuggled 6,000 tonnes (t) of beef, making false agreements and invoices to cheat customs clearance." The suspects’ bank accounts, including about Chinese Yuan Renminbi 30 million (US$4.7 million) have been frozen, according to a Customs office official.
The police and Customs action has been encouraged by the central government, which is concerned that widespread beef smuggling is hurting China’s domestic cattle industry, while threatening food safety controls. Meanwhile, negotiations on approving new licence for new legitimate beef imports drag on.
Chinese language newspapers have quoted police as saying that Hong Kong is being used by smugglers as a conduit to enter the mainland market, being distributed across the country. Police have blamed the incidents on "loopholes within China’s supervision system".
A particularly high-profile case involved police authorities in Jiangsu, north of Shanghai, announcing on 30 November that officers had arrested 27 persons, suspected of smuggling 300t of beef from Brazil. The alleged smugglers are still in jail awaiting formal charges and a trial.
A report in the Communist Party of China newspaper for Jiangsu the following day claimed the smuggling of Brazilian beef had harmed the local beef market, depressing prices, with smuggled beef being sold at around US$7 per kilogram, while locally-sourced fresh beef is nearly twice as expensive.
Fernando Sampaio, executive director of Brazilian Beef Exporters Association (ABIEC) told GlobalMeatNews: "We consider this finding [the Jiangsu beef smuggling case] unfortunate. In addition to that, we don’t know under which conditions the transportation or storage of that meat is done."
Regarding his predictions for Sino-Brazilian beef trade in the coming five years, Fernando said: "Beef consumption is directly related to income. China has rising incomes and a large population. This is reflected in an increase of protein consumption. Brazil would like to be a partner of China in granting food security to the Chinese population, complementing local production, not harming it."
He said Brazilian beef exports to China would increase, as once the previous full import ban is fully lifted, the industry will promote the quality of legitimate Brazilian beef exports to Chinese consumers. That is the best way to fight smuggling, he added.