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Cablegate: Smuggling of Food Products Increases On China's Southern

VZCZCXRO1411
OO RUEHCN RUEHGH RUEHVC
DE RUEHBJ #3401/01 3550313
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 210313Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY BEIJING
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7303
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHDC
INFO RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI 0034
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BEIJING 003401

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE PASS USDA/ERS
STATE PASS USDA/FAS/OSTA CHINA DESK
STATE PASS USDA/OGA
STATE PASS USTR FOR STRATFORD
TREASURY FOR OASIA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SNAR SENV EAGR ETRD ECON CH VN

SUBJECT: SMUGGLING OF FOOD PRODUCTS INCREASES ON CHINA'S SOUTHERN
BORDER

Refs: A) HANOI 164, B) 08 GUANGZHOU 366, C) 08 HANOI 409

(U) This cable is Sensitive But Unclassified. Please protect
accordingly.

1. (SBU) U.S. exports of agricultural products smuggled into China
have surged due to an increase in politically motivated trade
restrictions. China's border with Vietnam has become a prime
transit point for trade in beef, pork, and poultry. A smuggler
involved in this trade recently described how this trade flourishes
along China's southern border. END SUMMARY.

EXPORTS SKYROCKET TO VIETNAM, BUT WHERE'S THE BEEF?
--------------------------------------------- -----

2. (SBU) U.S. beef exports to Vietnam spiked at $171,000 in 2003
only to drop back to $9,000 in 2004 due to an outbreak of BSE in the
United States. When Vietnam joined the WTO, U.S. beef exports to
Vietnam shot to over $5 million in 2005 and then skyrocketed to $27
million in 2007. In 2008, the increase in U.S. beef export trade to
Vietnam was meteoric, increasing over 362% to $124.8 million.
According to USDA's Office of Agricultural Affairs in Vietnam, this
fantastic rise in exports shows no sign of slowing down, and even
with the current global economic downturn and tight credit market,
indicators point to another record year. For the first five months
of 2009, U.S. beef exports to Vietnam are $81.3 million, already 65
percent of the total for 2008.

3. (SBU) What is driving this growth and where is the beef going?
Although U.S. beef is now available from select outlets and very
high end restaurants in major cities of Vietnam, this accounts for
only a tiny fraction of the export trade. Reportedly up to 95% of
U.S. beef exports to Vietnam are bound for China, where U.S. beef is
banned due to BSE.

POROUS BORDER WITH VIETNAM
--------------------------

4. (SBU) From October 19-21, Agricultural Attach Mark Petry and
Agricultural Specialist Jiang Junyang visited the southern part of
Guangxi Province on a sugar reporting trip. Guangxi produces about
60 percent of China's sugar and this industry is the largest
agricultural sector, employer, and land use in the province. We
decided to stay the night in Pingxiang City after visiting sugar
mills in that area. Our driver contacted a friend in that city and
arranged at dinner at which the friend revealed that he was an
entrepreneur engaged in smuggling. The account of his job
correlates very closely to previous accounts provided to FAS China
second-hand and to the account provided by the FAS Office of
Agricultural Affairs and Agricultural Trade Office Hanoi in FAS
Internal News Report titled "Mong Cai" from July 2009.

5. (SBU) The "entrepreneur" was surprisingly open about his
activities and described the process in detail. He said that he was
very active in sourcing agricultural products from Vietnam, though
recently focused on non-agricultural goods and only provides
"logistics" for the food trade. Last year, he said that he
specialized in imports of U.S., Canadian and Brazilian beef, pork
and poultry and exports of Chinese rice. He noted that his friends
in the business have recently added significant amounts of pork to
their shipments north. He showed a picture on his cell phone of
U.S. commercial classifications of chicken feet to demonstrate his
knowledge. [Note. U.S. beef has been barred from China due to BSE
restrictions since 2004, while pork has only recently been banned
due to H1/N1 restrictions. While not banned for the most part,
various restrictions increase commercial risk for exporting U.S.
poultry to China. Chinese rice is less expensive than Vietnamese due
to subsidies and tight export restrictions. End Note.]

6. (SBU) The entrepreneur said that the majority of the smuggling
operations in the Pingxiang area occur at night at a small clearing
on the river that separates China and Vietnam. While the operation
is large scale and well-known locally, he said that conducting the
operations in the day light was non-negotiable with the local
authorities. Basically, it is just a clearing in the forest on each
side of the river that has access to a road. In the case of frozen

BEIJING 00003401 002 OF 003


meat products, semi-trucks with refrigerated containers first pull
up to the Vietnamese side. The containers are unloaded by hand and
the boxes of meat are carried down to small boats for the river
crossing. The small boats carry about 5-8 tons each trip and, on
average, it takes about 5 trips to ferry one container-load of meat
to the Chinese side. The boxes were then restacked in a waiting
truck, generally bound for the wholesale markets in Guangdong. At
this location, the man said that the transfer of 18 containers (760
metric tons) was the record in one night.

7. (SBU) The contact noted that the value of high-end meat cargo
could be as much as 2 million RMB ($293,000). For some cuts of U.S.
beef, the MFN tariff rate is 20 percent, the VAT rate is 13-17
percent, and there are additional customs and quarantine clearance
fees. Thus, direct fees alone can easily reach 40 percent of the
value of the shipment. Avoiding the customs fees alone could gross
a smuggler 800,000 RMB ($118,000) per container. On that record
night, the smuggling organization could have made 11.2 million RMB
($1.6 million) on high-end U.S. beef. Additionally, the wholesale
mark-up could be 50 percent and the retail/food service mark-up over
100 percent. If the smugglers had direct contacts in the food
service industry, their profit would have been much greater.

8. (SBU) As noted above, the contact said that he stopped his
active involvement in most of the smuggling activity related to
foreign food products. He noted that there are other opportunities
that are not so labor intensive. He said that he is now involved in
the export of Chinese fertilizer to Vietnam through an exclusive
supply agreement with Vietnam's Ministry of Agriculture. He claimed
that he receives a free trade arrangement from both sides. [Note:
China had 100 percent plus export tariffs on fertilizers for much of
2008.] When we visited the Pingxiang Border Economic Cooperation
Area/Youyi Guan border point, the man pointed out one of the lanes
is dedicated to smuggled electronics, but that the "facilitation"
costs of this trade are too high for him.

9. (SBU) While at the checkpoint, one could see why it could be
relatively easy to conduct an operation even within sight of the
customs house. First, many local people are granted special access
passes to work and conduct trade in special border areas where goods
are stored and housed. They drive vehicles and walk among these
areas on each side of the border, but within a designated area.
Additionally, there was also a clearly visible footpath on the side
of the mountain going around the border control point where people
could be seen walking back and forth over the formal border with
various goods. Lastly, all the customs documents for goods
transiting the border are processed in these special trade areas.
With all the people and customs officials milling around, it does
not seem hard to slip in forged documents or pay for the right stamp
in the confusion.

BIG BUSINESS FOR BORDER AREA
--------------------------------------------- --

10. (SBU) FAS Vietnam contacts report that when the border is fully
open at all points, the number of refrigerated containers that pass
daily is estimated from 50 to 300. They believe that Mong Cai, in
Vietnam's Quang Ninh province, is the main border post for such
containers going to China, but thought is being given to using
border gates in Lang Son province, where the roads are much better
and thus transportation cost would be less. FAS Vietnam reports
that its contacts believe that Vietnam has no plans to curtail this
lucrative transhipment trade which provides an important income
stream for Vietnam from port charges, as well as a significant
source of employment for local labor. With a 1,200 KM border
between relatively poor provinces on each side, it is hardly
surprising that the trade flourishes.

COMMENT
-------

11. (SBU) Most in the agriculture trade community believe that
China's policies encourage and sustain this trade. China's openness
to trade in agriculture and food trade grew rapidly after their 2001
WTO accession and the number and types of products imported soared.
However, following the lead of many countries, China has

BEIJING 00003401 003 OF 003


increasingly used sanitary and phytosanitary barriers to limit and
direct trade. The trend toward more non-tariff trade barriers
against key third countries is particularly pronounced in the large
trade of meat and poultry products. While the trade in semi-legal
or smuggled products has generally been replaced with direct imports
in recent years, politically motivated trade barriers have caused a
different trend in China's imports of meat products.

12. (SBU) Generally speaking, importers in South China prefer to
import directly into China. However, smuggling routes through Hong
Kong and Vietnam remain and, in some cases, are growing as a "cost
effective" option. While not a preference, the Chinese suppliers
will meet demand through the grey channel when necessary. If China
continues to expand non-scientific trade barriers, big profits in
the food trade are going to continue to encourage criminality along
China's southern border.

GOLDBERG

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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