10/20/2008, 00.00
NEPAL
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Nepal bans Chinese milk and dairy products

by Kalpit Parajuli
The Maoist government of Kathmandu is running for cover, to defend itself from the scandal of contaminated milk. Candy, cookies, and dairy products banned. Meanwhile, Beijing admits part of the responsibility for the affair.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - The government of Nepal has banned Chinese milk and all products derived from it. The decision was made on Sunday the 19th, in anticipation of new technologies to test food products coming from Beijing. Uttam Kumar Bhattarai, director general of the Department of Food Technology and Quality Control (DoFTQC), tells AsiaNews that "As it is quite a new case not only for Nepal but also for other countries, we are consulting with food technologists and closely watching the responses of other countries." Procedures are already underway to import a new food testing laboratory. "We are in the process of importing a 'test kit' from Singapore soon," says Bhattarai.

The DoFTQC has asked all of the main stores in the area of Kathmandu not to sell risky products from Beijing. At the same time, it has told the various regional offices to impose a quarantine on any product connected to Chinese milk. The guidelines released on October 19 also concern the various products derived from milk, like candy and chocolate. By way of prevention, on Friday ten tons of cookies from China were confiscated in Brigunj, on the border between Nepal and India.

The first Asian country to ban Chinese products after the scandal of melamine-contaminated milk broke was India. New Delhi's decision was followed by that of other Asian governments, which applied various policies to shield themselves. Countries like Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Burma, and Taiwan have recalled various products from the shelves, or banned products ranging from candy to foods containing vegetable protein.

The head of foreign policy for Kathmandu, Upendra Yadav, says that "We are holding ministers level talk very soon and it will decide about the banning period and other measures on it." At the same time, "the government is establishing contact with the Chinese authorities."

Beijing is Nepal's second-largest import partner, and wants to compete with India for trade leadership. The new Maoist government, which came to power in the country's first free elections, held in May, looks more favorably upon China. Prime Minister Prachanda made his preference known by making his first foreign trip to Beijing, on the occasion of the closing of the Olympics, instead of to New Delhi.

Under scrutiny because of the scandal, China is doing damage control. Wen Jiabao has admitted that the government is partly responsible for the affair. In an interview with U.S.-based Science magazine, the Chinese prime minister says that "in spite of the fact that the contamination with the chemical substance was caused by the milk and dairy companies of the country, the government is responsible for overseeing the industry at the center of the crisis." Wien Jiabao has also said that "the various divisions of the dairy industry all require clear standards and specific tests."

Today, the Chinese inspection agency for food quality revealed the results of tests made after September 14. The general administration for the supervision of quality, inspection, and quarantine has affirmed that of the 66 brands of powdered milk tested in 22 cities, none of them contained melamine.

China has introduced new standards in this area: 1 milligram of melamine for each kilogram of milk for infants, 2.5 for liquid milk, powdered milk, or foods containing at least 15% milk.

The continuing crisis is also having repercussions on the Chinese dairy market. The New Zealand company Fonterra, a worldwide leader in milk production, is preparing to sell its stake in San Lu, the main Chinese company implicated in the scandal. The Australian dairy industry is benefitting from the crisis, seeing an increase in sales and in demand for its products on an international level.

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