Russian importers adjusting to tighter seafood safety and traceability requirements
Russian importers, at least of small and medium scale, have been painfully adjusting to tighter seafood safety and traceability requirements after Russia's Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Rosselkhoznadzor issued an order No.FS-EN-4/7325 dated 31 July 2007 about seafood import veterinary certificates in 2008, market players told http://www.fishnet-russia.com/ (https://www.fishnet.ru/).
Seafood import/export operations have been especially complicated by the new requirement to specify quantity of each fish species indicating in the vet permit application not only the country of origin for the goods, but also the specific approval number (name) of the establishment (vessel).
The big operators have voiced no public protests against the new routines, but some importers who are more dependent on spot trade interpret the new restrictions as the end of free trade and the end of freedom in choosing suppliers as in the beginning of the year they cannot know for sure what products and from which suppliers they will purchase in the course of the year. They cannot foretell the prices and they cannot foresee which vessel will harvest the needed fish, they angrily remark. A large share of imported fish originates from wild stocks. The wild harvest has been non-stable in the recent years and it cannot be regulated in terms of volumes as is the case with farmed fish. Therefore, importers have fallen into a tough situation of restrictions caused by a considerable shortage of fish. They have been asking all the producers for needed products and every time those products have been found with someone else. The concerned importers point out that it is hardly realistic to obtain permits for all possible producers and even to foretell the quantities and it is hardly feasible to receive permits for consignments of several hundred tonnes for every existing supplier.
The unhappy importers say they are surprised that international seafood community keeps silence on the matter. The new rules worsen life of both Russian operators and foreign suppliers who can now sell their fish only to those importers which have already received a vet permit for their factory/vessel number. All the other players are not allowed to import their goods to Russia as the duration of processing veterinary permits will sometimes exceed the term of the goods' transit. And it is not realistic to get the permit for each particular shipment, state the angry importers.
In the meantime, the Russian veterinary authorities will hardly yield to the pressure as they act within the framework of international trends and agreements on strengthening measures against illegal fishery and depletion of wild stocks and for the sake of food safety. The concept is based on the principles of product traceability from harvester to consumer. On the export side, the traceability requirement has state port control which has been also making exporters complain about extra red tape and costs. The authorities have responded to the fishermen's protests with reassuring explanations that the new system will gradually be fine-tuned and the difficulties of the transition period will vanish.
In a comment for http://www.fishnet-russia.com/ on the importers' complaints a spokesman of Rosselkhoznadzor has noted that, just like in any new undertaking, probably not everything has been put right in the procedure of the vet control of import supplies, but gradually the procedure will become more convenient and not only large market players will be able to adjust.
The spokesman has also explained the current position of Rosselkhoznadzor as regards the above mentioned issues. He thinks that there are two main problems in the sphere of seafood traffic which should be handled by Rosselkhoznadzor: UUI (undeclared, unreported and illegal) fishery and suppression of supplies of poor quality and dangerous products. In this aspect, the interests of importers and the authority will inevitably collide. Traders are seeking large volumes and quick turnover. In order to continue trading under fairly strong competition, traders will sometimes have to cut off the corners. The government is also interested in market saturation, competition and maintenance of prices at affordable levels. At the same time, the government is concerned about reproduction of the wild commercial stocks. It has to take care of future generations while the priority target of the traders is to take care of their wealth and a balance of interests should be established, according to the spokesman.
The government is also concerned with food safety issues including humanitarian, social-medical and economical aspects. The spokesman has underlined that Rosselkhoznadzor had in mind exactly all the above aspects when circulating the latest regulations.
The vet service aims at preventing the inflow of products from the UUI fisheries as well as dangerous and poor quality products from the market. The spokesman says that the above measures have been made in the interests of Russian importers as well. For instance, Rosselkhoznadzor has circulated a lot of messages about arresting consignments of finfish and other marine species contaminated with salmonella, staphylococcus, listeria, etc. When products are seized at the border the importer will inevitably bear losses, that is why the Russian vets have initiated inspections of foreign fish processing plants in order to stop an inflow of dangerous and poor quality products at the source rather than seizing them at the state border. Now the importer does not have to sign contracts with hundreds of foreign fish processing companies (in China, for instance, there are about four hundred plants) as there are not so many plants in the Far East capable of producing seafood items in compliance with the Russian standards.
The official has summed up saying that the new rules, which are being introduced now, can solve the problems of the product's legal origin and food safety. At the same time, the importer will know for sure which supplier has the Russian vet approval and which has none. Such system has been also applied to other food categories such as meat, for instance.
The spokesman has invited the market players to give their proposals as to improve the methods of solving the issues of food safety and sustainable exploitation of the fish resources.
The regulations in question are given as below.
Directive No.FS-EN-4/7325 dated 31 July 2007 of Rosselkhoznadzor
Russia's Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Rosselkhoznadzor keeps receiving applications for export/import of aquatic biological resources with non-complete information which has caused delays in issuing foreign trade permits in due time.
In connection with the aforesaid, according to the directives of Rosselkhoznadzor No.FS-EN-2/11259 dated 22 December 2006 and No.FS-EN-2/1828 dated 2 March 2007, the applications should contain:
- volume of products for each particular finfish and non-finfish aquatic species;
- place of product's origin with the number (name) of company (vessel) to be specified.
Towards further optimization of issuing export/import permits Rosselkhoznadzor recommends that the veterinary bodies of the RF provinces should draw up the export/import applications according to the forms given in the appendix (non published as irrelevant).
The given information is brought to the notice of all interested companies engaged in foreign trade.