Vietnam’s Food Safety Regulations
Vietnam updated its food safety law in February, replacing Decree 38/2012-ND-CP with Decree 15/2018/ND-CP, to reduce regulatory burdens and enhance international trade of goods.
With the change, the government loosened regulations by removing various administrative procedures, with the ultimate aim to increase channels of international trade for food products. The new decree is part of a larger scheme of initiatives – like the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) – to reduce technical barriers to trade and boost foreign investment.
Decree 15 allows the government to adjust the food industry standards with international best practice by relaxing its procedural grip. The EVFTA, for example, outlines sanitary and phytosanitary measures imported food products from Vietnam must comply within the EU.
Grounds for food safety inspection were amended while the procedures for safety audits were reduced significantly: 90 percent of food shipments now enter the country without examination. Previously, all food shipments were examined before the change to the law.
Products circulating the Vietnamese market now take a major leap from pre-inspection to post-inspection, with responsibility now placed on enterprises serving or selling food to declare self-compliance with regard to food safety regulations.
Decree 15 at a glance
Before Decree 15, an enterprise had to prepare two sets of documents with 11 different kinds of papers to satisfy food safety regulations. However, vendors were able to bypass this process by buying counterfeit food safety certificates off the streets.
Now, methods of safety standards have shifted. Businesses must self-announce food safety quality and compliance, but are no longer subject to automatic customs examinations. An enterprise operating in the food industry must declare responsible food safe practice on Vietnam’s multimedia websites.
Removing impractical administrative procedures are viewed by the government as a necessary step to reduce labor costs and develop business prospects. The new decree is predicted to reduce 90 percent of administrative fees, save 2.9 million working days, and save VND$2.5 trillion or USD$107222.50.
Ensuring food safety
Frequent food poisoning and contaminated food products have been widespread issues in Vietnam, despite the requirements stipulated in previous regulations. Countless food safety incidents arising from a lack of adequate regulatory enforcement exposed food supplies to foodborne illnesses throughout the trade process.
While the removal of administrative barriers enables efficient trade and investment, companies partaking in Vietnam’s food industry should still be conscious of the harmful effects of low-quality food. The demand for high quality and dependable food products should increase as the market continues to develop, and a single food safety scandal can permanently damage a brand’s reputation.
Further, businesses must be prepared for the potential to be inspected by regulatory authorities. The Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Ministry of Industry and Trade will inspect up to five percent of total food imports per year at random.
Currently, the government is in the process of drafting a decree on fines for any violations of food safety.
Steps businesses should take
The Ministry of Health established specifications within updated food regulation standards that must be met by international importers since a duty applies to every product that enters the country.
All companies that want to export food commodities into the country must submit an appropriate certification for registration. Companies are liable for safety issues for their products.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development provides the customs office with details of organizations authorized to export products into the country. Applicable requirements issued by the Ministry of Health must be met. These include labeling requirements containing the name and details of the manufacturer, registration for food additives, advertisement for food products, and the country of origin.
Businesses that want to partake in Vietnam’s food industry need to recognize the full scope of regulatory changes. Companies should review Decree 15 to ensure products and trade practices are aligned with the update.
Maxfield Brown, Dezan Shira & Associates’ Business Intelligence Manager in Ho Chi Minh City, said “The decree is new and it still takes a while for agencies to implement new levels of regulation. It is up to the body of government interpreting the new law to enforce it—so, it is important to differentiate periods when new regulations are not enforced from periods of uncertainty. People trying to comply with the new update should be cognizant of timing and how to comply with the regulation.”