Vietnamese exporters in the dark about changes to US food quality regulations

By Vien Thong   August 29, 2017 | 12:10 pm GMT+7
Vietnamese exporters in the dark about changes to US food quality regulations
Workers make fish fillets at a factory in the southern city of Can Tho. Photo by Reuters/Kham

A lack of knowledge about these changes could lead to 'significant' drops in Vietnam’s agriculture exports to the U.S.

More than 1,000 Vietnamese food exporters have lost business in the U.S. this year after failing to register quality updates required by the import market, an American trade official said.

The number of Vietnamese food exporters registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has fallen from 1,845 in 2016 to 806 this year.

Mark Gillin, vice chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam, said at a recent conference in Ho Chi Minh City that a policy introduced in 2016 requires all food producers that wish to sell their goods to the U.S. to re-register every two years.

Vietnamese exporters were supposed to file their new registrations between October and December last year, but many of them were unaware of the new rule and did not make the list, he said.

Even those who remain on the list do not have a full understanding of all the updates to the country's food quality regulations.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued at least 32 warnings this year to Vietnamese food exporters about following its requirements.

Gillin said that a number of food safety regulations have been introduced following the Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in 2011, and considered the most sweeping reform of U.S. food safety laws in more than 70 years.

The act aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it, and thus focusing on the entire production process instead of the final product.

FDA inspection teams visited seafood factories in Vietnam last summer to check if they were aware of the new rules, which include employing at least one person who has studied the act under a course recognized by the FDA.

Another noteworthy update, according to Gillin, is that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is now in charge of inspecting catfish imports, after taking over from the FDA in May 2016.

He said a lack of knowledge about these changes could lead to “significant” drops in Vietnam’s agriculture exports to the U.S.

Vietnam is one of the U.S.’s biggest trade partners in agriculture.

Seafood exports to the U.S. in 2016 increased nearly 10 percent from the previous year to $1.44 billion, while exports of other key products including rice, cashew, coffee, tea and pepper jumped 25 percent to more than $1.87 billion, according to official customs figures.