Ocean carrier Mediterranean Shipping Co. (MSC) issued a trade advisory to customers Wednesday noting that Chinese authorities have said, “In order to prevent the spread of the Zika virus, containers from all the involved countries shall be subject to effective anti-mosquito treatment."
MSC's notice continued, “With immediate effect, it means that there is a need to provide a certificate of extermination of mosquito. If no certificate is provided, the buyer must fumigate the cargo at arrival at the port of destination.”
An APL announcement indicated that as far back as March, the China Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau (CIQ) was requiring vessels and containers from selected countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and Oceania with reported Zika virus transmissions “to present a mosquito eradication certificate (issued prior to departure from affected countries) upon arrival in China ports; otherwise the vessels/containers will be instructed to perform eradication measures under the supervision of the local CIQ.”
The UK Protection and Indemnity Club also has a notice from China posted on its web site for cargo arriving from other countries that it said took effect March 2 and from South Korea that it said was issued Jan. 29.
What’s new apparently, is that all 50 U.S. states are now being affected, even though only a small number of mosquito-transmitted cases of Zika have been discovered in one Miami neighborhood.
“This is blowing up the entire export supply chain. First SOLAS VGM, now Zika. Bad for exporters, terminals and carriers. Lots of confusion,” said Peter Friedmann, counsel for the Agriculture Transportation Coalition (AgTC).
Top executives from several carriers and the World Shipping Council said they were trying to get clarification on what the announcement means.
Yesterday, the Agriculture and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a document entitled, "Field Operations Guidance – China Zika virus requirements for US exports," which read:
"APHIS is currently discussing China’s new Zika virus health issue requirements with Chinese authorities. We are requesting clarification on which agricultural commodities and production areas of the U.S. are included in the requirements. APHIS is inquiring about what specific form(s) of acceptable documentation can be submitted to Chinese officials by exporters, and other details of the new requirements. The need for accurate information will take time and official guidance will be sent out by APHIS in the future."
APHIS continued, "This is not a phytosanitary issue, it is a human health concern. Authorized Certifying Officials are not approved or required to monitor or witness treatments for mosquitos as they are not phytosanitary treatments. APHIS reminds the field that only phytosanitary treatments may be included in the treatment block on phytosanitary certificates."
Obtaining certificates for all containers exported from the U.S. to China, let alone fumigating them would be a monumental task. A report posted on the website of the Maritime Administration, U.S. Waterborne Foreign Container Trade by Trading Partners, indicates that in 2013, over 3 million TEUs of containers were exported from the U.S. to China.
A copy of the notice of the policy being circulated by AgTC that is dated from March was in Chinese, but a “Google Translate” version indicated that under the regulation “vehicles and containers from the countries and regions would be subject to effective anti-mosquito treatment” and that port authorities in China are being told to “adopt effective anti-mosquito measures to eliminate mosquito breeding sites, reducing the mosquito density of the port. Inspection and quarantine authorities shall strengthen port health supervision, to prevent the spread of mosquitoes in the port, Zika virus and other infectious diseases.”
It is not clear what proper treatment of containers would involve or if empty containers would be exempt from the rule.
There are over 3,000 different species of mosquitoes throughout the world; currently 176 species are recognized in the United States, according to the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA).
Joe Conlon, a technical advisor for the AMCA, said he was not aware of any "certificate of extermination of mosquitos" in the U.S. where abatement is usually done by county governments. He was not aware of any local mosquito control commissions inspecting export shipments in the past, though he could not categorically say it has never been done.
"It's not necessarily a bad idea to make sure we are not shipping mosquitos from here or that China is shipping mosquitoes here," he said. The U.S. has several invasive mosquito species including Aedes albopicus, commonly called the Asian tiger mosquito, and Aedes japonicas, Conlon said. They are believed to have arrived in used tire shipments from the Far East.
"There should be a push, if there is not now, to have disinfection stepped up considerably as the world gets smaller with trade and tourism," he suggested.
Of the many types of mosquitoes present in the U.S., only two species are known to be vectors for the Zika virus, the above-mentioned Aedes albopicus, along with the Aedes aegypti, the so-called yellow fever mosquito. Both species commonly lay their eggs in tree holes just above the waterline so that when it rains, the eggs are inundated, hatch and larvae emerge. These types of mosquitoes can be attracted to areas with very small amounts of water.
It is not clear if containers from any location in the U.S. would have to be treated, and if treated, if both the inside and outside of the container would have to be fumigated.
While both species of mosquitoes have fairly wide ranges in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control indicates that to date, only six cases of the virus is known to have been transmitted by mosquitos in the 50 U.S. states, and all six were in a single neighborhood in Florida. However, there have been 5,460 locally acquired cases in Puerto Rico, dozens in the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa, and over 1,800 travel associated cases.
AgTC said among the questions it wants answered are:
• What will the cost be?
• Who will absorb the cost?
• Will it make US goods uncompetitive?
• What happens to goods that are currently on the water in transit to China?
• Can high volume cargo even fumigate at the scale they operate at?
• Which fumigants are acceptable? Methyl bromide? Phostoxin?
• Which fumigants can work with food-grade products?
• Is it better to fumigate in the US or upon arrival in China?
• Which certification parties are acceptable?
• How much time will it add to the supply chain?