Belgian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce (BCECC)

BCECC Newsletter: China Through My Eyes – Interview with Annabelle Schreiber

1. You started your position as Agricultural attaché for food safety and SPS related measures in the beginning of 2021. How did you experience your first two years in China, also taking into consideration the Covid-situation and lockdowns?

As an Agricultural attaché for food safety and SPS related measures, my first two years in China have been both challenging and rewarding. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, I had a positive experience in my first two years here. The first year was indeed quite challenging as I was the very first Agricultural attaché for food safety and SPS related measures abroad. Nevertheless, I have been able to build my network and good relationships with my colleagues and counterparts, and have gained a deeper understanding of the Chinese market and its regulations. Despite the Covid situation and lockdowns, I have been able to adapt to the fast-changing COVID-19 environment and continue to work towards strengthening the ties between Belgium and China in my field of competence.

2. What has been the role of the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) in facilitating the ties between Belgium and China?

The FASFC office at the Belgian embassy in Beijing has played and is still playing an important role in facilitating ties between Belgium and China. FASFC works closely with Chinese authorities to ensure that Belgian products entering the Chinese market are safe for the consumers. Every day, the FASFC office is in contact with the authorities and provides technical support and assistance to Belgian exporters, helping them navigate the complex regulatory environment in China.

3. Between 2014 and 2016 you studied at the University of Science and Technology in Beijing. Could you tell us a bit more about this experience and did it influence your decision to come back to China as an attaché 5 years later?

My experience studying at the University of Science and Technology in Beijing was incredibly enriching and provided me with a deeper understanding of China’s culture and language. The endless cultural discoveries and my studies in China definitely influenced my decision to come back to China and be able to put in practice this knowledge. My educational background in Belgium (bioengineering) was the final touch to link everything and come back five years later as Agricultural attaché for food safety and SPS related measures in China.

4. What are the main challenges and/or drivers of the food and beverages sector in China? And does this create any threats or opportunities for Belgian companies?

The food and beverages sector in China is a complex and dynamic market with both challenges and opportunities. From a food safety point of view, the main challenges facing the food and beverage sector in China include regulatory compliance in general and the complexity and the time to open new markets. Another challenge – not related to food safety – is the fierce competition in the Chinese market. The main drivers are the increasing demand for high-quality food products and the growing middle class.

5. Thanks to some successful Belgian food and beverage companies, Belgium has a good reputation in this field in China. Does this offer a competitive advantage for newcomers from Belgium to China? In which industry fields in particular?

The success of Belgian food and beverage companies in China has certainly contributed to the country’s positive reputation in this field. This reputation can certainly be leveraged by newcomers from Belgium, particularly in industries such as chocolate, beer, and specialty foods.

6. Now that China is back open for foreign business travelers, what would you recommend to Belgian companies? Should we all come to China again or should we wait and see?

China is currently in a transition period between the COVID-19 pandemic time and the new normal. Given that there are currently no COVID-19 related restrictions in place anymore, Belgian companies have the freedom to consider coming to China again.

7. Could you share with us some personal story about your China presence in the past year? Any private encounters or experiences which are typical for China or which made you love (or hate) the country?

During my free time I like to wander in the alleys and explore the city. I also choose to live in the hutongs, the old traditional neighborhoods of Beijing. I have many wonderful experiences during my time in China, including good friends from university and private encounters with locals who have been incredibly welcoming and friendly. These encounters have given me a deeper appreciation for China’s culture and traditions.

8. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about doing business in China in 2023 and the following years and what are the main changes to be expected as compared to the past years?

I am an optimistic person, so having this in mind, I would like to say that I am optimistic about doing business in China in 2023 and the following years. I believe that there will be new opportunities for Belgian companies to expand their presence in China, especially in the areas of food and beverage. The removal of quarantine requirements for travellers and disinfection for goods are favorable factors for the resumption of trade between China and the rest of the world. Although impacted by the epidemic and the embargoes in place, we have seen a growth in the value of exports of agri-food products from Belgium to China between 2014 and 2021. The export of agri-food products also represents a growing share of overall Belgian exports to China. How to not be optimistic?

Please contact the Belgian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce (BCECC) in case you need more information.