EU- a tough market for Vietnam’s seafood industry

(VOV) -A proposed free trade agreement (FTA) between Vietnam and the European Union (EU) is expected to reduce tariffs and make the sales prices of fish and seafood exports more competitive.

However, businesses operating in the fishing and seafood industry have their work cut out to meet with the strict food safety requirements of the EU said speakers on June 4 at a conference in HCM City.

At the conference sponsored by the European Trade Policy and Investment Support Project (EU-MUTRAP), speakers said though the volume of exports to the EU has been steadily rising, so have the number of safety violations.

The FTA is expected to be signed in the near future and that will open up many opportunities for fish and seafood exports said Claudio Dordi, technical assistance team leader for the EU-MUTRAP project.

However, the technical standards of the European Commission (EC) market will remain unchanged, he said, suggesting that Vietnamese businesses need to be proactive in getting their operations up to snuff and in compliance with the regulations.

Fish and seafood have been cited a top product in the EU, however, the number of warnings issued and flat out rejections of product by customs have been steadily inching up Dordi cautioned.

In 2012, 64 seafood product shipments were returned, a sharp rise from 2002’s figure of 26. From 2010 to May of this year, 183 seafood shipments were issued warnings, and there were 41 shipments rejected in last year alone.

According to Le Thanh Hoa, vice director of the Vietnam Sanitary and Phytosanitary Notification Authority and Enquiry Point (SPS Vietnam), most batches subject to warning failed to meet the physical, chemical or biological standards.

The EU requires compliance with the GlobalGAP (good agriculture practice) standards for all imported products, while Vietnamese utilizes a lower VietGAP standard, Hoa said.

Nguyen Tu Cuong, head of the Seafood Development Committee at the Vietnam Fisheries Association, in turn said there are a large number of complex requirements for products to enter the EU.

Vietnamese businesses will need to get up to speed on the regulations related to materials, chemical compositions and labels if they want to take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the FTA.

He advised businesses to innovate and modify their operations to improve the added value of their products.

Echoing Cuong’s sentiments, Dordi also suggested businesses in the industry pay more attention to labelling with a view to raising added value and promoting the Made-in-Vietnam brand.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Vietnam’s standards are currently lower and out of sync with those of the EU— creating a new standard consistent with that of the EU would benefit trade.

At the conclusion of the conference it was announced that officials from EU-MUTRAP will submit a draft report detailing EU SPS policies with recommendations for improvements in Vietnam’s regulations.

The EU is a trading bloc of 28 nations. Although the EU is a common market regulated by the EC, member markets have differing separate regulations requiring strict food hygiene and safety.

To gain access to these markets, fish and seafood businesses need to perform their due diligence investigations of the markets with care to insure they meet with all of the prerequisite regulations.