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Vu Hoang Ha Thu – Legal Assistant – Indochine Counsel
To strengthen safety controls for imported food products, the Ministry of Health (MOH) issued Circular No 52/2015/TT-BYT, dated December 21, 2015, on State inspection protocols to ensure the safety of imported food products, detailing the documents needed for the application dossier and the procedure for granting a certificate for exported food products under the administration of the MOH (Circular 52). Accordingly, all such imported food products are subject to a State inspection for safety, conducted by inspection agencies designated by the MOH.
Any request for this State inspection must be directed to the designated inspection agency or to an e-information portal, if applicable, by the trader before the shipment of imported food products arrives at the customs checkpoint. The evaluation of the inspection results shall comprise its announcement of conformity with National Technical Regulations or an announcement of conformity with food safety regulations, the applicable International and National Technical Regulations on food quality and safety and regulations on labeling food products.
Circular 52 provides for three State inspection methods: standard inspections, strict inspections and reduced inspections. The standard inspection comprises a documentary inspection and evaluation of the products’ organoleptic aspects, labeling, packaging and special preservation conditions, if any, based on a representative sample of the imported products and a test of certain criteria that have raised the suspicions of the inspection agency. The standard inspection is applied to all imported products from any shipment, except in the specific circumstances of a strict inspection or reduced inspection.
The strict inspection comprises two forms as follows: (i) The documentary inspection and the test of full product criteria, declared in accordance with the respective announcements of conformity with the National Technical Regulations or with food-safety regulations for food products that were found to be non-compliant in the last inspection; and (ii) the standard inspection and test of the warned criteria or a request for the provision of relevant testing results for the warned criteria where the food products have been issued a warning by the MOH, an overseas competent authority or the manufacturers.
The reduced inspection comprises the documentary inspection phase only, which is applied under the relevant notification of the Việt Nam Food Administration and for a maximum period of 12 months from the date of the application.
An imported food product under the strict inspection method will be switched to the standard inspection if it passes two consecutive strict inspections, or in the case of products with warnings from the MOH, an overseas competent authority or its manufacturer, if there is an official notification on the cessation of strict inspections for it.
As regulated, it takes two days for the relevant inspection authority to complete the procedures for a reduced inspection. Meanwhile, the time needed to complete a standard inspection and strict inspection is 8 and 10 days, respectively. Some traders have complained that the time needed for the standard and strict inspections is too long and creates unreasonable costs for traders due to the need for storage and preservation of the imported food products during such inspections.
Circular 52 took effect on February 23, 2016. — Indochine Counsel