Vietnam’s aquaculture certification scheme not helping its exporters
The Vietnamese Good Agriculture (and Aquaculture) Practice certification scheme, VietGap, is of no use to Vietnamese seafood exporters trying to get their products accepted abroad. Importers do not require it and are rather seeking certification by internationally recognized organizations instead.
Lê Văn Quang, chairman of the Minh Phú Seafood Joint Stock Corporation, which has been processing and exporting shrimp for 35 years, told Vietnam News, “VASEP [the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers] always encourages businesses and [fish and shrimp] farmers to apply the VietGap process in aquaculture to meet the increasing needs of export markets.”
However, the company had not met any customers who required products to be certified with VietGap. They only needed Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP), Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), or Global Gap, an internationally recognized set of farm standards dedicated to Good Agricultural Practices, certification, he said.
Quang added that the criteria required by VietGap were even higher than required for the other certifications. Therefore, he suggested shrimp farms in Vietnam be required to meet the standards of BAP or ASC instead of VietGap.
“BAP certification is globally used and Vietnamese shrimp products are mainly sold abroad. So why does Vietnam not use the certification to certify all stages of shrimp production?” Quang told a Vietnam News Agency correspondent.
“Currently, the state is supporting farmers to achieve VietGap certification, but it would be more reasonable to use that money to help them achieve BAP and ASC certifications and reduce production costs and make Vietnamese shrimp products more competitive,” Quang suggested.
Nguyễn Thị Hồng Phước, head of the raw materials procurement division of the Ho Chi Minh City-based Vĩnh Lộc Food Processing and Trade Co Ltd., said the company only exported VietGap-certified goods to markets which did not demand specific certifications.
VietGap was introduced by the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) five years ago as the Vietnamese fisheries sector was seeking to actively penetrate the world market. It said VietGap certification should be applied mainly for three aquaculture species – pangasius, tiger prawns (Penaeus monodon) and vannamei shrimp (also known as whiteleg shrimp Penaeus vannamei).
Trương Đình Hòe, general secretary of VASEP, agreed that VietGap was currently not a requirement of importers and that Vietnamese companies must meet the standards of the particular market they wished to sell to. Exporters to Western European countries typically see demand for the GlobalGAP certification, while the American market demands the BAP certificate, he said.
“These standards helped increase the added value of the companies’ products,” Hòe said. “However, if we do a good job in introducing and promoting the VietGap certificate, it will be more easily recognized and well-known in other countries, and applying VietGap will become more popular. VietGap will be a commitment by exporters that the products they make are strictly monitored for food safety and hygiene.”
Nguyễn Việt Thắng, chairman of the Vietnam Fisheries Association, said VietGap was an essential criterion for assessing food safety for Vietnamese products.
“Each country has a certain standard and symbol to address food safety issues. Exporters who want to sell their products in a market have to ensure they satisfy the standard applied in that market,” he said.
However, to avoid companies applying for multiple certificates at the same time, Thắng said the Vietnamese government had asked MARD and the Directorate of Fisheries to study the possibility of connecting the various certification systems.
No doubt seafood exporters and importers around the world have made the very same plea. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the different organizations which have instituted these certification systems have done so for reasons other than helping the seafood industry by agreeing a universal system.
In Vietnam, and presumably in other countries too, seafood producers face bills of USD 7,000 to 10,000 (EUR 6,400 to 9,000) per audit to become certified. And these audits must be repeated regularly every year, or sometimes every two or three years.
In addition, certification schemes often take up to two percent of the product’s sale value, a Vietnamese industry insider said.
Some experts say it might rise up to 10 percent in following years, as every year something new to these certifications is invented and must be achieved.
So it could be a help for the Vietnamese industry if the government would subsidize a share in the costs of these requested certifications instead of wasting their investment on VASEP-invented certifications no buyer in the world ever asked for.