Food Safety Regulations Series: Vietnam
Monday, January 1st, 2018
To better understand the food regulatory landscape in Asia, APFI has spoken to law firms that specialise in food law from five different countries across Asia, which include China, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and the Philippines. By Farah Nazurah
In the third part of the series, we look at food safety regulations in Vietnam. Hien Thi Thu Vu, head of regulatory affairs, Vietnam, Tilleke & Gibbins, shares her advice.
Please provide an overview of what the firm does.
Tilleke & Gibbins is a regional law firm in Southeast Asia, with 150 lawyers and consultants in Bangkok, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, Phnom Penh, Vientiane, and Yangon. We represent investors and companies in the key areas of commercial transactions as well as mergers and acquisitions, dispute resolution and litigation, and intellectual property.
One of our important practice areas is regulatory affairs, where we assist companies in the pharmaceutical, cosmetics, consumer products, food and beverages, biotech, medical devices, veterinary products, and other life sciences sectors to enter markets throughout Southeast Asia. We assist companies in research and development and clinical trials to registration and market entry to commercialisation and technology transfer, through every stage of a product’s life cycle.
Our Regulatory Affairs practice spans the following disciplines:
• Clinical Trials and Consumer Testing
• Registration with Vietnam Food Administration (VFA) or Drug Administration of Vietnam (DAV)
• Import, Export, and Manufacturing Licenses
• Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) Crop Care Registration
• MARD Animal, Aquatic, and Hazardous Substance Registration
• MARD Import, Export, and Manufacturing Licenses
• Regulatory Compliance and Maintenance
• Labeling and Advertising Clearance
• Intellectual Property
How do food regulation and registration vary depending on the product or category?
Food products, depending on the product category, are regulated and managed by three different ministries: the Ministry of Health (MOH), the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT), and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD). The MOH has the prevailing general management power.
These ministries have issued three lists of foods, specifying which food belongs to the management of which ministry. The MOH, for example, is in charge of bottled water, functional foods, and nutraceuticals; the MOIT is in charge of wine, beer, and candy; and the MARD is in charge of cereals, meat and meat products, and seafood. This classification affects a number of things, including which authority carries out food safety inspection.
Regardless of their categories, all foreign processed foods must be registered with the Vietnam Food Administration (VFA)—an agency of the MOH—to obtain a Certificate of Conformity Declaration (CCD) before being imported into and/or circulated in the Vietnam market.
Processed foods include two main groups: general food products, and nutraceuticals/functional food products. Depending of the group, food products may have to meet different requirements before getting the CCD. For example, a functional food must have a Free Sale Certificate or Health Certificate or an equivalent certificate granted by competent authorities in the country of origin, along with information and scientific documents supporting the effects of each ingredient contributing to the declared functions of the product. General food products are exempt from these requirements, but must provide testing results from within the past 12 months, including key quality criteria and food safety criteria.
It is strictly required that product labels comply with the country’s labelling requirements, such as compulsory contents in the Vietnamese language.
Have you seen a growth in the number of food and beverage companies entering the markets in Vietnam?
Yes, the market is growing fast and the game is growing more and more competitive. Food and beverage conferences and exhibitions regularly attract hundreds of companies from Europe, Asia, and the Americas looking to introduce their products to the Vietnam market, and business advocates like the European Business Network in Vietnam and the American Chamber of Commerce have organised trade promotion activities in sectors such as canned food, milk, beer, and wine. The launch of the European Union-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement is certain to open the market further to European food and beverage companies.
At present, many foreign businesses are investing in the country’s food and beverage market through mergers and acquisitions to own shares in many of the nation’s domestic companies, such as Kido Group, Dabaco, and Masan Nutri-Science. More than 50 percent of the local beverage market is now owned by foreign businesses.
Which regulatory hurdles should manufacturers be aware of when entering the food market in Vietnam?
When it comes to preparing for market launch, there are some regulatory hurdles that foreign food manufacturers and distributors will inevitably encounter in Vietnam.
The general regulations on the levels, criteria, and requirements for heavy metals, pollutants, microorganisms, etc., related to food safety and hygiene for human health issued by the Ministry of Health have not been updated since 2011, and are not in line with corresponding standards in other countries where the products are often produced.
Although there is an online submission system for registering products in Vietnam, government agencies still require manufacturers to submit original documents such as the Certificate of Analysis, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, and ISO 22000 certificates. This slows down the registration process of the product.
Some labelling regulations are not flexible enough to cover exceptions in special cases, such as beverages sold exclusively to bars, and food sold exclusively to manufacturers’ store systems.
Foods circulating in the market are subject to periodic quality testing. At present, however, many labs in Vietnam do not have high-quality operations, which can lead to inaccurate test results, affecting the test quality of products. This in turn can lead to products not being in conformity with the documents registered with government agencies. In this case, the CCD might be revoked, and a sanction may be imposed against the seller/importer.
One common violation of food products is in labelling, when the information on the label is different from the information submitted to the VFA or when the label changes without notice being sent to the VFA. This can result in a fine being imposed on the seller/importer, and the goods being withdrawn from the market. Manufacturers should closely monitor any changes in their products and labels to ensure compliance.
Do you predict any major changes to transpire in Vietnam’s food industry in the next five to ten years?
With a population approaching 100 million, strong gross domestic product growth, rising per capita income, rapid urbanisation, and growing concerns about food safety from consumers, Vietnam’s market is promising even more growth and development in the coming time, especially for foreign manufacturers.
The legal regulations for food and drinks are becoming more transparent. There have been some updates of regulatory requirements which facilitate the market launch of products. For example, online submission will be encouraged for registration of food and beverage products, and this process is expected to save time and money for suppliers.
The safety and quality of food is a growing concern for consumers as well as state regulators:
- Products from highly reputable foreign companies, especially in baby food and health foods, will be more and more in demand.
- State management agencies will intensify the frequency of inspection of various stages of the manufacturing processes. Non-compliant activities could lead to sanctions such as product recall.
Are there any other thoughts you would like to share with our readers?
Already promising and potentially hugely profitable, the food and beverage market is still growing. There will be increasingly more room and opportunity for foreign manufacturers. In parallel with income growth, consumers are becoming increasingly more selective about their food and drink purchases, particularly the quality and safety of the products, and are willing to spend more for a better choice.
Though seemingly clear and detailed, Vietnam’s legal regulations can be unpredictable in practice, with many grey areas, jurisdictional overlap, and contradictions to cope with. However, we believe that with the growing effort of the government to cut through the red tape, the regulatory hurdles will be significantly lowered in the future.
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