Shanghai's hard line on soft cheese could hurt European companies

BEIJING (Reuters) - Shanghai has halted the import of cheeses such as Roquefort, Brie and Camembert in a move set to damage European exporters, diplomatic and industry sources said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO - Dutch cheese is displayed in a shop window in Edam near Amsterdam, Netherlands February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

It is not clear why Shanghai, one of the main entry ports for most of the products, has imposed the suspension. Such cheeses are made with cultures not authorised in China, said a European diplomat who confirmed the decision, but the country has allowed them to come in for years.

Shanghai’s inspection and quarantine bureau banned blue cheeses such as Roquefort and other soft cheeses including Brie and Camembert, said Vincent Marion, managing director of Shanghai-based online cheese shop Cheese Republic.

The business had been notified of the change by its suppliers in late August, he said.

The authority directed questions to the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine in Beijing, which oversees food imports for the entire country. It did not respond to faxed questions on the matter.

“The European cheese industry is extremely concerned by this ban,” said the diplomat who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

He said the ban impacts European cheeses more than others because of the large variety of cultures used in European cheese. China permits a relatively small number of edible cultures for use in food.

There was no immediate comment from the European Commission or the French farm ministry.

Cheese sales in China are expected to reach 5.3 billion yuan (£620.72 million) this year, up 26 percent from last year, according to research firm Euromonitor.

More than 90 percent of cheese sold in the market is imported, with most coming from New Zealand and Australia, which supplies the bulk of mozzarella used on pizzas.

Demand for high-end products such as Brie and Camembert is growing too however, with the two cheeses accounting for about 15 percent of sales this year, the Euromonitor data showed.

Additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Keith Weir