New government rules threaten Vietnam’s tuna sector
Tuna importers and exporters in Vietnam are complaining that their business operations have been severely impacted due to new requirements from the country’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, according to statements from Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP).
There are two circulars from the ministry that are now affecting both importers and exporters of tuna, VASEP said.
On 25 December, 2018, the ministry issued a revised circular, effective 10 February this year, which stated that consignments imported from ships at the oceans via transit ports in other countries must now submit a certification document or they will not be cleared. The document must include name of the ships, their registration numbers, their flag states, names and volumes of the catches, unloading time and location, and preservation conditions. The document, provided by authorities at the transit ports, must also certify that the catches are kept as at their original state and have not been under any processing phases.
VASEP, however, said most of the countries and territories through which VASEP members import their tuna refuse to provide such a document. Only Thailand and the Philippines had agreed to begin providing the certification, but even their documents do not contain all information required by Vietnamese authorities, VASEP said.
Tuna importers were only aware of the revised circular about one to five days after it came into force. As a result, many of their containers already arriving at Vietnam ports could not be cleared. And the problem is set to balloon, as many more shipments are currently in transit, heading toward the country’s ports. Many purchase contracts with foreign partners were signed months before importers knew about the new set of regulations, according to VASEP.
“There are about 50 containers stuck at ports because the importers did not know about the new rule,” an official familiar with the matter told SeafoodSource on 1 March. “For those still on the way at sea, they have to cancel contracts and return the cargoes,” the official said, adding that this cost the importers dearly, as they have to pay contract compensation fees and deal with shortage of raw material for production.
VASEP said it sent an urgent letter to Agriculture Minister Nguyen Xuan Cuong on 25 February to seek his intervention. In its request, the association asked the minister to put on hold the implementation of the revised circular until 31 March in order to free all the existing consignments stuck at ports and arriving cargoes that have already departed foreign ports retroactive to the first half of February.
This is not the first time that tuna importers have had to deal with new requirements from local authorities that negatively affect their operations. In November last year, incoming shipment of seafood were stuck in Vietnam’s ports after the Agriculture Ministry's Animal Health Department issued an order in September 2018 requiring consignments imported directly from ships at sea to have an animal health certificate. VASEP has fought the request, arguing that seafood has been brought into the country directly from sea without health certificates for at least the past 10 years, and that it accepted international practice. VASEP said animal health checks are not needed because the seafood is being imported directly from ships at sea and has not been through any processing.
On Vietnam’s export front, tuna exporters to the European Union are also desperately seeking for help from VASEP as a number of fishing ports have refused to grant certificates of origin for tuna catches through their ports since the start of this year. A circular on seafood certificate of origin was issued by the Agriculture Ministry on 15 November last year, effective on 1 January, 2019, to implement the European Commission’ recommendations for addressing the European Commission’s “yellow card” warning, imposed on October 2017.
The circular stated that local fishing ports must cease granting certificates of origin for catches through their ports until they get certification from the ministry. As of early March, no port had yet been certified, VASEP said. As a result, companies have seen their cargoes piling up in storage systems because no tuna bought since January has been granted a certificate of origin, which is required for export to the E.U. The companies risk having to pay contract compensation fees for buyers in the E.U., with their business operations being severely impacted.
VASEP said it sent a separate letter to Vice Minister of Agriculture Phung Duc Tien on 1 March aiming to have the ministry issue the list of fishing ports eligible for granting certificates of origin as soon as possible. VASEP further requested that until the list is produced, the ministry permit ports to continue granting certificates of origin as they did before 1 January, in order to help reduce stockpiles and ease the mounting pressures faced by the country’s tuna exporters.
Vietnam exported tuna worth USD 653 million (EUR 576.4 million) in 2018, up 10 percent from 2017. The United States and E.U. remain the top destinations for tuna from Vietnam, VASEP said in January.