Standards and technical regulations are created to defend the safety of humans, the environment, and the nation. The requirements may concern the features or quality of a product or the procedures for testing, certification, labeling, and so on. They relate to issues such as product development, production, packaging, storage, distribution, and marketing.
Standards are voluntary and are generally developed by a group of stakeholders, such as industry, consumers, public authorities, and researchers. Technical regulations are compulsory requirements set by governments. A standard may become a technical regulation if a government mandates it.
International organizations devoted to creating and administering standards include:
- International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
- International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC)
- International Telecommunication Union (ITU-T), telecommunication standardization sector
The Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) has overall responsibility for the quality and standards of goods, including foods. However, the Ministry of Health (MOH) is fully responsible for the safety and hygiene of foods, in other words, Vietnamese standards for food safety and hygiene are set by the MOH. This system in some cases has created overlapping and confused regulations on foods.
Testing norms of imported food products are based on the Vietnamese Standard System (TCVN) set by MOST, while and hygiene and safety standards set by MOH. The complexity of these standards can pose problems for trade. However, it has been observed that food products that have nonscientific standards can still enter Vietnam’s market easily. The Vietnamese standard of zero tolerance of salmonella in chicken meat is an example.
Additionally, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) oversees testing of agricultural products and foodstuffs (see Pesticides and Testing of Foodstuffs below)
There are no regulations on the size or weight of imported food containers. Additionally, there are no laws or regulations on container product recycling. There are, however, restrictions on the use of packaging materials. In 2007, the MOH issued a decision on "Maximum Permitted Level of Biological and Chemical Residue Allowed in Food," a part of which sets requirements on hygiene and safety requirements on food packaging materials.
In 2001, the MOH issued a decree on the List of Food Additives allowed to be used in food. The decree provides the list of permitted food additives in different ways: in alphabetical order; according to the International Numbering System (INS), and according to function, as follows:
- Acidity regulators
- Flavor enhancers
- Firming agents
- Anti-caking agents
- Anti foaming agents
- Mixing agents
- Artificial sweeteners
- Stuffs made from starch
- Inert gases
- Moisturizing agents
- Firming agents
- Polishing agents
- Coloring agents
- Foaming agents
- Powder treatment agents
Maximum levels (MLs) of the approved food additives allowed to be used in each kind of food are also presented in the decree.
In order for food additives to be approved for use in production, processing, treatment, preservation, packing, and transport of food, they must be in compliance with the "Regulations on Food Safety" stated in the MOH Decree. Only food additives on the list can be imported to Vietnam. Foods for import must also be certified to meet food safety requirements by an authorized agency.
Additives in food must:
- Not be present at more than the maximum permitted level
- Meet technical, hygiene requirements set for each food additive
- Not change the physical, chemical, and nutritional content and commercial value of the food
- Be labeled in accordance with the current regulation
The Vietnam Food Administration (VFA) annually reviews the status of food additives used based on their benefit or harm to human health.
In Vietnam, pesticides must be registered. The Plant Protection Department (PPD) of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) is the government body assigned to manage pesticides registration.
Before a pesticide can be traded or used, it must be registered at the PPD. The registration consists of different steps. First, the importer or trader has to get a permit for its testing in the field. The document dossier for the field testing includes:
- Application form for field testing (form provided by the PPD)
- Notarized copy of right to use the product or authorized letter for using the product or similar document
- A sample of the product’s label
It takes about five working days for the PPD to review the application. A fee is charged for a permit for field testing of a new pesticide.
After obtaining permission for field testing, the register must work with a local agency to carry out the test. This work usually takes about 2 years. The cost for the field testing depends case by case, but it is estimated around 100 million Vietnamese dongs.
If the results of the field testing are favorable, PPD will grant the registering permission for use of the pesticide in Vietnam. The registration is valid for 5 years. The registration can be extended subject to a minor charge.
The MARD issues a list of pesticides permitted for use, restricted for use, and banned from use in Vietnam on an annual basis.
Only business companies holding permits on either alcoholic drink production or alcoholic drink wholesale are eligible to import alcoholic drinks into Vietnam. The following conditions apply for obtaining a wholesale permit for alcoholic drinks from the Ministry of Trade and Industry:
- The company must have a business registration license on alcoholic drinks.
- The company must have its own distribution network, proper storage and facility.
- Imports of alcoholic drinks are subject to relevant import regulations, including registration and labeling and food safety and hygiene requirements.
- Imported alcoholic drinks must bear a sticker with specific import stamps on their packages per Ministry of Finance regulation.
Twelve foodstuff groups (other than unprocessed foods from animals, plants, and fish) are subject to compulsory state examination on food quality and safety.
Food quality and safety-control examinations for goods are specified using the Harmonized System (HS) code and are based on the TCVN and technical standards. In case there is no Vietnamese reference, Codex Alimentarius standards are applied.
Imports of unprocessed foods originating from animal, plants, and marine sources must be inspected for sanitary and phytosanitary standards by competent quarantine agencies under MARD.
Monitoring Bodies and Venues
At the wholesale/retail distribution level, several city and provincial government agencies are involved in monitoring the quality and safety of food products, including offices of the Department of Health, the Department of Animal Health, the Department of Industry and Trade, and the police force.
Vietnam Customs also inspects goods to determine and collect import duties and assess violations of compliance with required customs formalities on behalf of all concerned agencies.
Entry-point inspections by Standard Testing Agencies (STAs) and customs inspection may take place at seaport, river port, airport, or at a public warehouse or importer‘s warehouse, if certified and approved by STAs and customs.
Note: Please note that this information is subject to change. Importers and exporters are advised to obtain the most current information from a customs broker or freight forwarder or from the local customs authorities, listed at the top of the Contacts page.
Article written for World Trade Press by Jennifer Goheen and Nina Bellucci.
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