|Nguyen Nhu Tiep
The recent shift in the US’s inspection regime for Siluriformes fish products imported from Viet Nam is not warranted, but has to be dealt with, Nguyễn Như Tiệp, director general of the National Agro-Forestry-Fisheries Quality Assurance Department tells the Vietnam News Agency.
From August 2, all batches of Siluriformes fish products shipped to the US are having to undergo food safety tests. What are the difficulties that this imposes on Vietnamese exporters?
The US Department of Agriculture has decided to inspect 100 per cent of batches of Siluriformes fish, including tra fish from Việt Nam, a month earlier than scheduled under the US’s catfish inspection programme.
Now, 100 per cent of catfish import batches must be checked for their records, packaging, labeling and stamping.
There are some new points in this regulation. Enterprises could previously store their goods in their own or leased warehouses. They would then report this so that the State agencies can check them. However, under the new rule, all batches must be stored at e-houses designated by the US Department of Agriculture and businesses must rent them, pending inspections.
This inspection must be conducted at facilities designated by the US Department of Agriculture, so there is a risk that some businesses will not be able to rent storage facilities near inspection sites. This will increase transportation costs. It will also increase time and costs for customs clearance.
Is this regulation compatible with international rules?
The Farm Bill was passed in 2014, which meant that the authority for inspection and supervision of food safety for catfish would shift from the US Food and Drug Administration to the US Food Inspection Agency under the Department of Agriculture. We see some points that are not compatible with international regulations.
Firstly, Việt Nam’s pangasius products exported to the US are preliminarily-processed and cooked products that have been exported to the US market for more than 20 years. Until now, there is not been a single food safety scandal related to Vietnamese pangasius in the US market.
Therefore, there is not enough evidence to shift inspection authority to another agency.
Furthermore, the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has applied all measures on controlling food safety of poultry and egg products for catfish, so many of these are suitable for poultry products, not seafood.
This is similar to the monitoring of slaughterhouses for livestock and poultry. Slaughterhouses have a high risk of spreading diseases like bird flu and blue ear to humans, so it is necessary to have strict supervision by state inspectors of such facilities.
Meanwhile, fishery products, especially pangasius, do not have these risks, like cattle and poultry. Therefore, it is not necessary and not suitable with international regulations.
How has the Agriculture Ministry interacted with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for solving the difficulties of tra fish exporters?
At the very beginning, the ministry sent to the US documents raising concerns over the US Government transferring the authority to inspect and supervise catfish, from the FDA to the USDA.
When the USDA issued its catfish inspection programme, the ministry officially brought to its attention the inconsistencies with international regulations.
And when the USDA decided to conduct inspection of all batches a month earlier, the ministry proposed to the US government that the process is made more flexible, especially in terms of warehouses and staff. So far, no bottlenecks have come up in the export of Việt Nam’s tra fish products to the US.
The ministry has also proposed that the US and Việt Nam set up a joint working team in technical co-operation to solve issues related to dossier preparation and equivalence assessment.
We have proposed that the US be flexible during the equivalence assessment process and give Việt Nam more time to bring about equivalence between the legal documents of both countries, so that there is no interruption in the exports of pangasius fish from Việt Nam.
What should Việt Nam do to avoid legal risks when seeking new markets for tra fish exports?
At present, Việt Nam’s tra fish products have been exported to about 120 countries and territories in the world, including the US, which is one of the largest markets for Vietnamese tra fish. There are many other potential markets, including strict markets like the EU and Japan, that can be tapped further.
When local enterprises approach new markets, they have to increase export volume and value in those markets. They also have to build a brand and promote it.
In the coming time, the local tra fish industry must focus on diversification and increase quality and step up trade promotion. - VNS