Saturday February 9, 2013
18-month wait a disappointment
By JACK WONG
KUCHING: It has been a long and anxious wait for thousands of local swiftlet farmers to get their birdís nests to re-enter the market in China, which banned the imports of the delicacy about 18 months ago.
Their hopes for good news that China would lift the import ban before the Lunar New Year celebrations have been dashed.
Their expectations were based on the signing of a protocol by the Malaysian and Chinese authorities in September for re-entry of cleaned birdís best into China
ďIt is a big disappointment to the swiftlet farmers as they had hoped for birdís nest exports to China to resume before the Chinese New Year.
ďWe have been waiting for one-and-half years and we do not know how much longer we have to wait before we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,Ē said Sarawak Birdís Nest Suppliers Association (SBNSA) secretary, Colin Wong Chung Onn, yesterday.
China banned the imports following the discovery of high level of nitrite in cleaned Malaysian birdís nests in July 2011. The ban has hit the countryís billion ringgit swiftlet industry hard as China was reported to be the biggest importer of Malaysiaís birdís nest products, with a trading value of about RM1bil annually.
Wong said in an update briefing by the federal Agriculture Ministry to industry players, including representatives from the Malaysian Federation of Birdís Nest Merchants Association, last week, they were told to wait for any progress on the matter after the Chinese New Year.
SBNSA is affiliated to the Federation of Birdís Nest Merchants Association.
In the latest development, Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, said China had recognised the presence of natural nitrite in birdís nest and would lift the import ban on Malaysian birdís nest products after determining the permissible level.
Liow, who met with Chinese health officials in Beijing about 10 days ago, said the Chinese authorities understood that the presence of nitrite was a natural occurrence when swiftlets were raised.
Both countries had agreed that there should be no nitrite additive in birdís nest exported to China during the production process.
A working committee comprising food specialists and experts from both Malaysia and China had been set up to determine the permissible level of nitrite in birdís nest products bound for China.
According to Deputy Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Minister Datuk Chua Tee Yong last month, the Chinese authorities would audit Malaysian swiftlet farms before allowing the imports of birdís nest.
Chua urged farmers to meet the requirements stated in the Certification and Accreditation Administration of China (CNCA) form to qualify for the audit.
Wong said the sales of birdís nest products had increased during the Chinese New Year festival.
ďBirdís nest products are packed in gift hampers on sale. Their sales have helped to clear some of the stocks but it is not significant as compared with the production volume of raw birdís nests,Ē he told The Star.
He said because of the ban imposed by China, the prices of unprocessed local birdís nest had dropped sharply due to sluggish sales.
ďThe prices have remained stagnant at below RM2,000 per kg,Ē he added.
The current price is a far cry from as high as RM4,500 per kg before China stopped the imports.
Commenting on the Malaysian authoritiesí latest move to allow tourists to bring up to one kg of birdís nest products each for their own consumption when leaving the country, Wong did not expect this to boost the sales much.
He said the move by the Malaysian authorities required the bilateral understanding of the touristsí countries of origin as they would only buy these products if their countries allowed them to be brought back.