Unsafe produce hurting exports

Weak food safety compliance by agricultural product exporters has negatively impacted Vietnam’s exports to European markets, experts said at a trade policy forum, “Food safety: Opportunities and challenges for Vietnamese exporters,” organised in HCM City on March 30.

Basa fish processing in Hung Ca Company Limited, Dong Thap Province. (Illustrative image. Source: VNA)

Nowadays, a number of countries apply standards by associations or sectors instead of national standards. For instance, retailers in UK, North America and Europe only consider signing contracts with suppliers which have British Retail Consortium (BRC) certification.

In Vietnam, enterprises are under pressure to comply to national standards and other regulations. In the legal system of food safety legislation, there is one law, one decree and nearly 80 circulars of the combined three ministries. Specifically, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) has issued 45 circulars, the Ministry of Health (MoH) has 20 and the Ministry of Industry and Trade has 12 circulars.

In addition, export enterprises find it difficult to comply with regulations not in the law. For example, the food safety compliance regulations in the Decree 38/2012/ND-CP dated April 25, 2012 is not included in the Food Safety Law. Exporters must not only meet the requirements of the exporting country but also meet Vietnamese standards.

According to Nguyen Hoang Linh, deputy director of Directorate for Standards, Metrology and Quality, Ministry of Science and Technology, these regulations waste a lot of operating expenses for businesses.

Speaking at the forum, Miriam Garci’a Ferrer, Commercial Counsellor of the European Union Delegation in Vietnam, said there are some businesses struggling to comply with food safety regulations, creating a bad reputation for Vietnam’s agricultural exports and affecting other firms.

Currently, many Vietnamese agricultural products are not the top choice of European consumers. For example, consumers are willing to buy Colombian coffee even though it is more expensive than Vietnamese coffee. The reason is that coffee products from Columbia have a clear label, origin and package, while Vietnam coffee is mixed with different types.

“Another example is the export of basa fish. Carrefour, a popular French multinational retailer, and some other supermarket chains have stopped selling this product from Vietnam not only due to sanitary problems but also the issues of sustainable farming and environmental treatment,” Miriam said.

Facing these ugly truths, Vietnam should focus on following the regulations and standards to be able to export goods into Europe and take advantages of benefits when the European and Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) comes into effect.

Do Kim Lang, deputy director general of Trade Promotion Agency, Ministry of Industry and Trade, director of Export Competitiveness Enhancement Programme for small- and medium-sized enterprises, noted that recent pesticide and antibiotic violations have caused serious export consequences. The direct consequence is that importers return goods and countries increase control measures. More significantly, the national image is affected negatively.

"There are some businesses doing well, however, the general level of the enterprises is not good, which devalues the brand name of Vietnam’s products, thereby decreasing commodity prices", Lang said.

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