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Danger hovering over Vietnamese rice, seafood
05 | 07 | 2007
Rice and seafood exporters may lose the Japanese market as Japanese authorities have threatened to stop importing Vietnam-made products if they find prohibited substances in imports once again.

Seafood exports – a headache

Officials and enterprises these days talk much about the information that Vietnam seafood exports have been found as containing prohibited antibiotics. Japanese authorities have threatened to stop importing seafood from Vietnam if Vietnam cannot settle the problem immediately.

Tran Thien Hai, Chairman of the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP), said that instead of examining at random, Japanese authorities have decided to examine 100% of seafood consignments sourced from Vietnam. VASEP has recently received a warning from the Japanese Ambassador that Japan was considering not importing Vietnam’s products any more if the current situation could not be improved.

According to VASEP, there are many reasons behind the unsafe seafood exports, but the most important factor is that farmers do not find it necessary to ensure hygiene during the farming and processing process. Many farmers and processing workshops use Chloramphenil instead of ice water to freeze food, since the substance allows the food to keep for a longer time than ice water.

A seafood processor complains that enterprises cannot prohibit or punish farmers for using Chloramphenil; therefore, the intervention of the state is necessary to help settle the problem.

VASEP’s representative said that its members had several meetings with Deputy Minister of Fisheries to discuss the issue, but no effective solutions had been found.

The risk of losing the Japanese market has become greater, and if it came to pass, would be a heavy blow to Vietnamese farmers and processors since Japan is a big export market for Vietnam’s seafood, consuming 18.2% of total exports in the first months of 2007.

Rice also in danger

According to the Ministry of Trade, the ministry has received a notice from the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare that Japanese customs agencies had found evidence of violations of Japanese laws on food hygiene in Vietnamese rice.

Two consignments of 300,000 kg of rice have been discovered as containing high contents of acetarmiprid (0.03 ppm), three-fold higher than the allowed level. The two consignments were carried by Stella Cosmo ships, docking at Japanese ports on May 1, 2007 after leaving Vietnam’s ports on April 22, 2007.

The two consignments are being held at a Japanese port for examination as requested by Japanese authorities. The consignments were shipped to Japan to fulfill the contract on providing 30,000 tonnes of rice to the Japanese Government.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear about the source of the two consignments. Nguyen Thi Nguyet, Secretary General of the Vietnam Food Association (Vietfood), said that Vietfood had received payment for the consignments and the clients had not made any complaints about the products.

According to Mrs Nguyet, Vietnamese rice exporters understand that Japan is a difficult-to- please market, and thus they examine exports very carefully before shipping. She said that the rice samples were not only examined in Vietnam, but sent to Thailand and Japan for examination as well.

Mrs Nguyet said that Japanese authorities had asked for Vietnam’s cooperation to track down the origin of the rice. The discovery of acetarmiprid in a high concentration in Vietnamese rice will badly affect the export of rice, a main export item.

Solution: examining carefully before shipping

The Ministry of Trade has called on suppliers and exporters to take drastic measures to prevent exports of products containing prohibited substances.

Examining 100% of rice consignments before granting customs clearance may be the strictest measure Japan will apply. If so, Vietnamese companies will incur big losses as it will take time and expenses for the examination. The 100% examination scheme is being applied for seafood exports, and the seafood lesson must not be repeated with rice exports.

Japan is one of the biggest export markets for Vietnam. Most of the rice exported to Japan is under the contracts Vietnam wins at the bids for rice provisions held by the Government of Japan every year.

Vietnam has won the right to export 45,000 tonnes so far this year. Vietnam exported 120,000 tonnes in 2006 and 80,000 tonnes in 2005 to Japan.

(Source: TBKTVN)
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