Annabelle Schreiber (in Chinese: 安妮) is the new Belgian agricultural attaché to China for food safety and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) related measures. She started her position in March 2021. Her role is to facilitate the collaboration between Chinese and Belgian authorities on multiple agricultural products from Belgium. Meat plays an important part in her job, especially since Belgium regained its ASF-free status. Belgian Meat Office had an interview with her shortly before she left for China.
What will be your role as agricultural attaché?
I’m exploring the ways of collaborating with the Chinese authorities and implementing co-operations. As the liaison, I communicate directly with the Chinese authorities in the sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) domain.
With export to China on the rise, it is necessary to have someone on the spot, in order to explore and follow up evolutions of the regulations and related questions. We know that, in China, more than anywhere else in the world, direct and frequent contacts with the right people are indispensable.
Is it an extra service to facilitate the procedures?
Yes, I want to facilitate communication and exchanges and take steps to enable direct contact with local authorities.
What experience do you have in the meat industry?
I started at the FASFC (Belgium’s Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain) in 2019. For more than a year, I’ve had intensive trainings to have a better understanding of what the FASFC and the different industries stand for—including on-site visits, accompanied by FASFC inspectors, to match the theory with the real-life situation. For the meat industry, I’ve visited pig farms, slaughterhouses and meat cutting plants for pork, beef and poultry.
Specifically, for China, I’ve been studying the technical dossiers, in collaboration with our FASFC experts.
Who will you be working with?
I’m in direct contact with my colleagues in Brussels, and also with the customs attaché in Beijing, with economical attachés of the Belgian embassy, and with the regional attachés. I also collaborate with the representatives of the European Commission in Beijing and with agricultural advisors of the other EU member states in China.
One of my most important roles is to ensure that Belgian products comply with China’s high hygiene standards.
What’s in it for Chinese authorities and enterprises?
Chinese authorities have the same to win as we do. They have specifically asked to have someone on the spot to facilitate the communication. With my presence in Beijing, we really show that we want to develop good relationships with China’s authorities and pave the way for new products for Chinese consumers.
Therefore, the Belgian products really need to comply with China’s high hygiene standards. My most important role is to make agreements, to have direct contacts, to keep an eye on the hygiene standards, and to ensure that Belgian products comply with these standards.
It’s good for enterprises too. At the FASFC, we control the safety of the food chain, and we are responsible for export certifications. To open up new markets for Belgian enterprises, we invest a lot in the relationships with other international authorities. We can really help build the image of Belgian products in order to help them export around the world.
China is not new to you.
Right before the Olympic Games in Beijing, I went to China for holidays. Ever since, I’ve been passionate about the Chinese culture. As I flew back home, I knew that I would come back one day: so, after my bio-engineering studies in Belgium, I took a Master in Management at the University of Science and Technology in Beijing.
At that time, I didn’t know any Chinese—just the basics. In addition to the Management classes, I took intensive Chinese classes to become integrated and to be able to fully participate in everyday life and activities. Today, I have an intermediate level in Chinese, and I’m still learning.
I can put my passion for the Chinese culture into practice.
What does your return to China mean to you?
I always knew that I would return to work in China. As agricultural attaché, I’m able to combine my passions. The job itself is directly linked to my studies, and I like its diversity: I’ll be spending lots of time for the meat industry, but I’ll be working on food safety matters for other industries too.
What’s more, I can put my passion for the Chinese culture into practice, and create a real relationship with my Chinese contacts.
Belgium recently regained its ASF-free status. What is the impact of that?
We’ve started negotiating with countries who had an embargo on the import of Belgian pork, such as China. It will be a long-term process: hygiene standards will need to be set, agreements have to be made, export companies will have to register, issues with deliveries of Belgian pork will have to be tackled with customs officers in China… I firmly believe that it’s an added value to be on the spot.