Not as free trade as you thought.....

Introduction

Many companies are looking to discover the implications of Brexit, and whilst at the time of writing, the terms of UK’s withdrawal from the European Community have not been established, there is a pressing need to develop new markets.

This symposium sought to address these challenges, through the combined expertise of three speakers, who gave three excellent presentations, overflowing with information, followed by a Q & A Panel session.

It was chaired by Sam Jennings, Chair of the IFST Food Law Special Interest Group and aided and abetted by Natasha Medhurst, IFST’s Scientific Affairs Manager.

“Exporting is great : DIT’s guide to overseas food and drink markets” - Professor Paul Berryman

Paul, amongst other roles, is a Food & Drink Investment Specialist for the UK Government Department of International Trade. He gave a wide ranging exposition of DIT’s function and of the many examples where DIT can support exporters. Apart from boasting the highest numbers of employees in UK’s largest industry worth some £114bn, the UK currently exports some £22bn, mainly to Ireland, USA and France, and there is a recognition that exports can grow from 30% of GDP to 35% .The DIT also helps overseas investors to locate in the UK and supports R & D. Whilst fighting our corner with government, they are also a source of advice for exporters on tax, legislation, planning and finance, and will also promote through trade shows and missions, with support from a locally based network of embassy and consulate staff. (For a fuller description of available resources from DIT, consultation of the website www.great.gov.uk is highly recommended).

DIT are targeting seven key high value markets – North America, Latin America, EU, Nordics, UAE, India & China. Paul continued by giving pointers as to preparatory steps to exporting (refer to www.fdf.org.uk/publicgeneral/Exports-guide.pdf) and gave some varied examples of national markets - Qatar, Argentina, Canada, Brazil - and a couple of product case studies.

“Overview of key regulatory issues to consider when exporting products to the USA” - Andy Kerridge

Andy is primarily a food safety and technology consultant through his company Wyvern Food Solutions, but is now also working with a software company, Primority, who help manufacturers, exporters and U.S importers through the labyrinth of the recently introduced Food Safety Modernisation Act, with the introduction of bespoke software. 

Hailed as the most exhaustive reform of food safety legislation, similar to the impact of the UK Food Safety Act 1990, the accent is on preventing contamination rather than responding to it, with the added dimension that imported foods are held equally accountable. After describing the different activities that USDA and FDA monitor, Andy turned to FSVP – the Foreign Supplier Verification Programme – which requires importers to verify that their suppliers have preventive control in place. These include a range of controls, apart from HACCP, that would be seen in the UK as a comprehensive pre-requisite plan. Documentary evidence of these, if required, would need to be submitted within 24 hours. The main pre-requisites under scrutiny would include Sanitation, Supply chain verification and Allergen control. The importer also needs to employ Preventive Controls Qualified Individual, who may be a consultant.

The holding of BRC, even with the FSMA “bolt on” is not a guarantee that your product will be exempt from scrutiny, and there is currently no GFSi scheme which can do so – the FDA are in the process of setting up a national forum and assessment body verification. Coming shortly is the Voluntary Qualified Importer Programme, which is fee-based ($16,400 p.a.), but should circumvent the in-depth review, and Andy expanded the requirements (refer to www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/ImportsExports/Importing/ucm490823.htm)

Other stumbling blocks include the difference between EU and US product labelling requirements, difference in declared allergens and additives, the implications of greater liability (and hence the need to beef up insurance) and some esoteric state laws e.g. California requiring mutagenic compounds to be declared.

“Overview of key regulatory issues to consider when exporting products to the Asia” - Su Zhang

Su is an International Regulator with Ashbury Labelling, a global agency with over a hundred staff in UK, USA and Australia. She considered three aspects – regulatory aspects, composition & formulation, and labelling in a number of Asian countries – China, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Hong Kong, India, Singapore and Taiwan.

It became quickly apparent that there was little, if any, harmonisation that we have become used to in the EU and there was a deal of merit in examining legal requirements in both horizontal and vertical fashion.

It was important to get your product formulation checked first in terms of whether there were compositional requirements, whether certain additives would be permitted, whether the product contained additional nutrients, and whether novel ingredients had been used. Making sure these were compliant with your target market was essential.

Food labelling was another minefield. Su compared and contrasted EU requirements with Asian requirements, giving examples of the variations on key issues – e.g. name of food, date marking, minimum font sizes, allergen labelling, country of origin information and nutritional information.  Never assume that a direct translation would be acceptable. Given that individual countries’ requirements were hugely different, it became clear that the top tip was to seek advice from an agency, such as Ashbury. 

Q & A Panel Session

All three speakers were subjected to a number of interesting questions from the audience, revolving around import/export. These were supplemented by statements from a number of attendees regarding the need for transparency in future arrangements.

Speakers were thanked in time honoured fashion by an appreciative audience.

The meeting concluded with a networking finger buffet lunch, with more lively debate.

We look forward to yet another stimulating seminar in May 2019. Watch this space. 

Alex Kent, RFoodSM FIFST