EU should lower TCM barriers, vice-minister says

Updated: 2012-11-12 07:59

By An Baijie (China Daily)

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A senior health official has called on the European Union to impose fewer restrictions on imports of traditional Chinese medicine.

Wang Guoqiang, vice-minister of health, said on Sunday that the EU should consider the character of Chinese culture and of TCM when making regulations on TCM imports.

"Unlike Western medicines, which attach great importance to laboratory results, TCM practitioners can determine symptoms of illness by checking the pulse," he said on the sidelines of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.

An EU directive, issued in March 2004 and implemented in May 2011, mandates that herbal medicines be barred from the EU market unless they are licensed by an EU member state.

To gain authorization in the EU, herbal medicine makers must pay large sums for registration and collect documentation proving the product has a 30-year history of safe use, including 15 years in the EU.

The Ministry of Health has often sent TCM experts to the EU to talk about issues related to setting standards for TCM imports, Wang said.

A brand-name herbal capsule for cardiovascular disease in China, Di'ao Xinxuekang, which was authorized to be sold in the EU on March 22, is the first and only TCM herbal medicine allowed on the EU market.

"We have more hope since Di'ao Xinxuekang was officially registered in the EU," Wang said. "China's TCM companies should try their best to meet international standards when exploring overseas markets."

TCM treatments, especially acupuncture and TCM massage, are used in more than 160 countries and regions worldwide, according to the Ministry of Health.

TCM uses herbal medicines to treat illness with fewer side effects and lower costs, and it should be introduced to more countries, Wang said.

Cultural differences remain the biggest obstacle to internationalizing TCM, and adding to the difficulties, many excellent TCM doctors cannot speak English, Wang said.

Xu Yonggang, a doctor at Shouguang TCM Hospital in East China's Shandong province, said that many TCM medicines used in grassroots hospitals do not meet the level of standardization required by international markets.

"Some TCM products don't even have labels that can help consumers track their origin," he said.

There were about 294,000 traditional Chinese medicine practitioners in China in 2010 and almost eight times as many practitioners of Western medicine, 2.32 million, according to a Xinhua News Agency report.