China to Australia: we’ll rather have our olive oil without the phthalates, thank you very much

ABC Rural reports fear among Australian olive oil exporters of not being able to get their merchandise through Chinese customs unless it tests free of plasticisers, for example one called DEHP (di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate 邻苯二甲酸二(2-乙基)己酯).

It’s not particularly clear if a new regulation, a decision to enforce an old one, or anything specific at all motivates the fear and the ABC story. The Chinese have been testing imported goods for phthalates for more than a year: in March 2013, for example, a consignment of Greek olive oil with too much DEHP was rejected in Nanjing, and French wine and spirits were hit around the some time. That particular round of foreign-targeted inspections followed, characteristically enough, reports that high levels of the toxic substance were present in local top-brand baijiu Maotai. The distiller said the reports were false, and that neither the authorities cared nor the company was able to check as they didn’t have the equipment. An industry association apparently does have it: they checked, and reported that all booze in China has some plasticiser, the higher-end, the more of it.

If stricter tests are actually being applied to Australian olive oil, some of the affected might actually be Chinese: around one sixth of Australian olive-growing land by my calculations are in Chinese hands, and the WSJ quotes industry sources as attributing 10% of current production to “Chinese and Asian investors”. Some time ago I discussed (‘China hits the grove‘) Chinese interest in olive groves and processing plants, not just in Australia but also in Greece (where in particular Chongqing Grain 重庆粮食集团 bought a plant, possibly but unconfirmedly Nutria) and Spain (where e.g. Xilu Kangyuan owns plantations; another deal said to involve HNA 海航 apparently didn’t materialise).