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China restricts salmon imports

China began blocking imports of fresh whole salmon from three counties in Norway on Monday, citing concerns that the salmon may contain a virus that could spread to Chinese fish. China, which froze diplomatic relations with Norway more than four years ago, is also threatening to ban imports from other Norwegian counties as well.

China is following Russia in banning imports of Norwegian salmon, meaning Norway's huge salmon industry needs to find new export markets for its fish. PHOTO: Nærings- og fiskeridepartmentet
Whole Norwegian salmon is a standard feature in many fish counters around the world, but China began imposing import restrictions this week. PHOTO: Nærings- og fiskeridepartmentet

“We must of course prepare for the worst, and we have cancelled 20 restaurant campaigns in China’s three largest cities in April,” Shanghai-based Sigmund Bjørgo of the Norwegian seafood council Sjømatrådet told newspaper Aftenposten on Monday.

Whole salmon, with the fish heads intact, will no longer be allowed from the counties of Sør-Trøndelag, Nordland and Troms. Chinese authorities are also demanding guarantees for imports after April 18 that salmon from all other Norwegian counties is free of components that could lead to the ILA virus.

Salmon from Sør-Trøndelag, Norland and Troms makes up around a fifth of Norway’s total salmon exports to China, which was valued at NOK 3.2 billion last year. That amounts to around 7.5 percent of Norway’s global salmon exports in 2014.

Chinese officials claim that Norway does not follow international animal health standards for trade. The Chinese restrictions on Norwegian salmon come despite documentation from Norwegian food safety authorities that the Norwegian salmon does meet all the international demands. Officials at Norway’s food safety agency Mattilsynet also claim there is no danger that the salmon from Norway could infect Chinese salmon with the ILA virus because the salmon is distributed directly to consumers. The authorities also note that the ILA virus, even if it exists in the salmon, is not dangerous for humans.

“We’re doing what we can to resolve this situation,” Kristina Landsverk of Mattilsynet told Aftenposten.  “The Chinese are worried about the health of their fish. They have created a risk evaluation to which we have not been given access. The best would be if we could sit down with them and go through the material, but it’s been problematic to establish contact.”

Landsverk said that the ILA virus has “many variants, some of which can lead to illness, others not. This is where we disagree with the Chinese.”

Norway’s diplomatic relations with China, meanwhile, have been frozen since the fall of 2010, when the Chinese government reacted angrily to the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. There has been virtually no contact between Chinese and Norwegian government officials since. Berglund



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