Navigating Asia Pacific's food laws

Exporting to Asia Pacific continues to be a top priority for many food businesses. Navigating the rules of the road across Asia Pacific, however, can be complex, costly and administratively difficult.

So how does one get "food export ready"? Here are our top 4 tips:

1. Understand your export obligations

Australian food exports are primarily regulated under the Export Control Act 1982 and its related regulations and orders. Depending on the type of food you wish to export, and the country to which you wish to export, you may be required to:

  • obtain an export permit from the Department of Agriculture
  • comply with "establishment registration" requirements, in which case the premises at which your food is prepared will likely need to be audited to confirm compliance with export requirements
  • conduct tests to demonstrate that the food in each consignment complies with applicable food safety standards
  • comply with specific compositional and labelling requirements

Some importing countries may also require Australian establishments to be "listed" before export. For example, all Australian export-registered dairy establishments must also be listed by China on the Certification and Accreditation Administration of the People's Republic of China (CNCA).

Currently, the export registration and certification requirements across Asia Pacific vary significantly, with some countries requiring all foreign pre-packed foods to be registered with a local regulator prior to importation, while others only require prescribed categories of foods to be registered (such as infant formula). Time frames for achieving registration can vary widely and should be factored into your timelines early in the process.

2. Appoint a local and reputable import agent

Ideally, partner with someone who is already registered or recorded with the local regulatory authority and is experienced in importing food products that are the same as (or at least similar to) the food you wish to export. Having a local importer who is familiar with the regulatory environment and can speak the local language can mean the difference between a successful consignment and a very costly mistake.

3. Take the time to get your labels right, or risk having your consignment rejected

The labelling of exported food must satisfy local laws and regulations, or risk being rejected at the border. This inevitably means you need a label with all mandatory information shown in the local language. Nutrition content claims, health claims and nutrition information panels (NIPs) must also comply with local laws.

Unfortunately, there is considerable disparity in nutrition labelling laws regulating the display of nutrition information panels (NIPs) and the criteria for making certain claims (such as high in protein). While some countries like Singapore only require four core nutrients to be listed in the NIP, other countries like Thailand require 15 nutrients to be listed. There is also inconsistency among Asia Pacific countries as to the way nutritional information must be displayed, with some countries requiring disclosure of nutrition information as a percentage of local RDI values.

Be aware that the disparity in laws can make it difficult to create a single label for use across multiple jurisdictions and, at the very least, you will nearly always be required to create multiple NIPs for the same product.

4. Play the long game!

Exporting to Asia Pacific is not a short-term proposition, but if you are prepared to invest in understanding the local market and regulatory environment, and building relationships with people on the ground, there are significant rewards to be had.

Go to the homepage to get an overview of food laws in Asia Pacific and click on Select a Jurisdiction or the Compare button to get started.