Ambiguous agricultural import policies stymie officials

A meeting was held December 7 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to discuss tightening control of foreign agricultural products entering Vietnam. Experts said that controlling imports was made difficult, however, because of poor and ambiguous government policies.

Potatoes are imported through the northern border gates into Vietnam. (Filed photo)

Moreover, many agencies have overlapping jurisdiction over import matters, causing confusion amongst the different parties.

According to Hoang Kim Giang, director of the Livestock Breeding Department, importing some types of animal feed is forbidden outright by the Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Development; but the Ministry of Health allows the imports with some restrictions.

And while the Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Development does not allow the import of certain vegetables and canned foods, the Ministry of Industry and Trade does. Such conflicting polices cause headaches for both importers and officials, the meeting heard.

Stronger measures should also be taken to prevent unsafe produce from penetrating the domestic market, experts said.

Deputy Director of the Plant Protection Department Dr. Bui Sy Doanh said that currently, quality testing of agricultural products is managed by both the Agricultural and Rural Development, and Health ministries. This overlap causes difficulties for officials, he said.

Minister of Agricultural and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat agreed that improved barriers were needed to stop unsafe food from entering the country and that the quality of domestic products needs to be improved for export.

The Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Development also asked related authorities to review import policies and promulgate improved rules.

The Ministry of Health and the General Department of Vietnam Customs need to enhance the monitoring and control of the country’s agricultural imports, said Minister Phat.

According to the ministry, many agricultural products have been flooding into Vietnam, mostly from China, through border gates.

Experts said imports increased suddenly toward the end of the year due to a northern drought that left a dearth of fruits and vegetables.

In the south, the rainy season began earlier this year, damaging produce by 40-50 percent in several areas. Other areas were not able to produce crops at all.

The Vietnam Food Association said it was able to meet just 50 percent of export orders due to the lack of harvests this year.

Many other goods are also smuggled into the country including electronics, tobacco, and textiles, but the volume of smuggled food including meats, vegetables and fruit was extremely high, said officials.

According to the Lao Cai border gate’s management board, an average of around 400 tons of agricultural products is imported daily through the border gate.

At Tan Thanh border gate in Lang Son Province, around 100-150 tons of agricultural products are imported each day.

The products consist mainly of tomatoes, taro, potatoes, garlic, cabbages and beets.

Representatives from the national Veterinary Agency said they recently discovered some tomato samples which contained alatoxin – a harmful substance.

After agricultural products are transported through northern border gates, most fruit is transported to Long Bien market in Hanoi while vegetables and dried fruits are brought to Bac Ninh town before being dispersed nationwide.

By P.Hau, translated by Ky Linh

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