China Is Said to Increase Scrutiny of U.S. Farm Product Imports

(Bloomberg) -- China’s customs authorities have bolstered inspections of U.S. agricultural imports just as trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies intensify, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Inspections are taking longer than usual and procedures are more complicated, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because they aren’t authorized to speak to the media. Quarantine authorities have strengthened inspections of products including fruit, pork and lumber, according to the people. Calls to the office of the spokesman of China’s customs authority weren’t immediately answered.

When asked at a daily briefing Thursday whether China had increased inspections of U.S. shipments, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters that China uses scientific and fair principles to conduct its inspections of imported goods.

The greater scrutiny comes after China said earlier this week that it had strengthened inspections of U.S. apples and wooden logs at major Chinese ports after pests and diseases were found in some shipments. Substandard imports may be returned or destroyed, according to a notice published May 7 on the customs body’s website.

‘Invisible’ War

“It is a kind of invisible trade war, which will give China more bargaining power in negotiations” with the U.S., Wang Zhong, chief consultant with China-based Systematic, Strategic & Soft Consulting Co., said in an interview. Farm products are often targeted by the government in dealing with bilateral relations, Wang said.

The inspections don’t just affect agriculture. Ford and premium Lincoln-branded cars have also faced delays at China customs, with officials asking for extra technical checks, Reuters reported, citing unidentified people familiar with matter.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on as much as $150 billion of Chinese goods to punish China over its intellectual property practices. China has said such a move would spark retaliation in equal measure on American exports. Talks between the two sides last week in Beijing failed to yield a deal, but China said Thursday discussions are continuing.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.