Cambodia on May 1 imposed an indefinite ban on the import of frozen meats and other frozen goods qualified as “high-risk” originating from India to contain the spread of Covid-19 amid a devastating second coronavirus wave in the regional economic power.
Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak revealed the ban in a May 1 letter addressed to General Department of Customs and Excise (GDCE) director-general Kun Nhem and the heads of Customs branches and offices, citing concerns over the B1617 variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which causes Covid-19.
The decision came after Sorasak asked for Prime Minister Hun Sen's approval on April 30.
The GDCE has also suspended the customs clearance of items in these categories that have arrived at customs offices or warehouses, according to the letter.
The letter notes that the ban is in accordance with Article 20 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and Article 12 of the ASEAN-India Commodity Trade Agreement on the basis of “urgent public health protection”.
Cambodia will also conduct testing and research for other pathogens – especially variants of the coronavirus – on these high-risk frozen products, and seek cooperation with the Indian government to find and identify sources of infection in the production, freezing, packaging and transportation of these goods, the letter said.
The Kingdom will destroy frozen goods originating from India that are found to be infected with the virus and pursue other legal action, and the commerce ministry will diplomatically bring the issue to the Indian side, it said.
However, it added, there has been no scientific study or other documented evidence from international institutions – especially the World Health Organisation – that Covid-19 is transmitted through packaging or fresh meat.
While the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) previously confirmed that there are no data linking packaging or frozen meats to Covid-19 cases, some governments – such as China's – have taken preventive steps anyway by banning and burning products deemed “high-risk”, according to the minister's letter.
In particular, the inspection and testing of Covid-19 on frozen meat and other “high-risk” items is a measure that can be explained under the hygiene and phytosanitary framework in Annex "A" of the sanitation and phytosanitary agreement of the World Trade Organisation.
Article 5 of this agreement requires the clarification of the necessities and reasons for carrying out such sanitary and phytosanitary measures, based on scientific jurisdiction.