Reform of quality inspection and food safety inspection requires determination to change


Scene of the meeting. Photo: N.Linh
Scene of the meeting. Photo: N.Linh

22 out of 27 Government members voted to approve the draft

At the meeting, Deputy Director of the Vietnam Customs Mai Xuan Thanh said that on January 12, 2021, the Prime Minister issued Decision No. 38/QĐ-TTg on management mechanisms, methods, order, and procedures for quality inspection and food safety inspection for imported goods which assigned the Ministry of Finance to formulate.

More than a year since the first draft was released, the General Department of Vietnam Customs has repeatedly consulted, and held meetings and seminars with ministries, agencies and businesses to revise and complete the draft Decree. The Ministry of Finance has also officially reported and submitted to the Government five times as well as held meetings twice with the Government’s Executive Committee. Up to now, the Ministry of Finance has received more than 100 opinions from ministries and sectors, only a few technical issues have not reached an agreement.

According to Deputy Director General Mai Xuan Thanh, compared with the initial draft, the drafting agency has continuously adjusted it many times in the spirit of sticking to the reform contents approved by the Government and receiving reasonable opinions. The notable content is the authorization of Customs as the inspection authority. Accordingly, the inspection agency is still the same agency as the current one, the Customs agency only participates in food safety inspection in accordance with the provisions of Decree 15/2008/ND-CP.

Regarding the time of checking the documents, in the past, the draft Decree stipulated that the time for completing the dossier inspection was two working hours (like the time limit for customs dossier inspection). After consulting ministries and sectors, the Ministry of Finance adjusted the time for completing the dossier inspection to be six working hours (including the official time limit is four working hours + two hours for warning inspection agencies when the official inspection period expires via National Single Window Portal).

Basically, 22 out of 27 Government members voted to approve the draft Decree. However, there are four ministries (Health, Science and Technology, Industry and Trade, Agriculture and Rural Development) that still have different opinions.

At the meeting, representatives of specialized units from the Ministries of Health, Science and Technology, Industry and Trade, Agriculture and Rural Development raised different issues.

The comments mainly focused on the implementation roadmap, the authorization of the Customs; the scope of the Decree; regulations on management by commodity item; the use of regulation conformity announcement codes; and the automated updating of results on the National Single Window.

In addition, there were concerns about the overlaps and contradictions with the valid specialized documents that relate to the responsibilities of ministries and sectors in state management of food safety for imported goods; or the adjustment scope of the draft Decree for some groups of goods which were exceeded the scope of Decision No. 38/QD-TTg.

There were also opinions that the provisions in the draft are “breaking” the current management process in return for a 1.02% reduction in administrative procedure costs.

Expressing a point of view on these opinions, the representative of the drafting agency stated that the issue of the customs authority’s competence has been received and adjusted in the latest draft following the principle that the inspection agency is still the current agency, the Customs authority only participates in food safety inspection.

The inspection agency does not participate in quality inspection, it only inspects food safety dossiers following the reduced inspection method as prescribed in Decree No. 15/2018/ND-CP stipulating the implementation of some articles of the Law on Food Safety. This principle has also received the consensus of the Government’s Executive Committee and the Minister of Justice has voted for approval without any other comments.

At the same time, in Notice No. 360/TB-VPCP of the Government Office on the conclusions of the Government’s Executive Committee at the meeting held on November 21, 2022, it was stated clearly that the Government’s Executive Committee agreed with the adjustment in the draft and affirmed that these adjustments were in line with the policy of reducing time, reducing costs, supporting import-export enterprises complying with the provisions of specialized laws.

The representative of the Government Office attending the meeting said that the drafting of this Decree took a long time, the problems that have been clearly indicated, have been practically tested and a high consensus should be included in the Decree.

Regarding the actual problems that need to be solved, it is necessary to review and determine the contents and scope of the problem to be amended and supplemented.

Furthermore, the implementation should follow the spirit of stepping up decentralization in association with resource allocation, strengthening inspection and examination in accordance with the state management functions and tasks of ministries and sectors; and the responsibility of enterprises operating import and export activities.

Desire to set the “long-term effects” for reform

Speaking at the conclusion of the meeting, Deputy Minister of Finance Nguyen Duc Chi affirmed that the draft Decree was a difficult document, although it only provided procedures, it posed a great impact on the reform process of many related units. Following the spirit of Decision No. 38/QD-TTg, when formulating the draft, the Ministry of Finance and the General Department of Vietnam Customs want to set out “long-term effects” for the reform of state management on quality inspection and food safety inspection for imported goods.

The Deputy Minister said that, because of that meaning, we hoped that the ministries and sectors would agree with the policy and carry out reforms together as well as work together to find the most suitable method and process in order to ensure management requirements while performing the reform.

According to the leader of the Ministry of Finance, in the process of receiving and explaining, the drafting agency has tried to harmonize specific regulations with relevant specialized agencies. Therefore, the units also coordinate and participate based on that spirit, with the common goal of supporting the reform policy that the Government has set.

Deputy Minister of Finance Nguyen Duc Chi said that it needed to be more flexible in the drafting process. “It is important that in terms of management, in terms of processes, do the proposed regulations work? Is it against the law? If it’s okay, can we agree to submit to the Government for making a decision immediately without amending Decision No. 38?”, the Deputy Minister said.

Facing the idea that “breaking” the current process, the Deputy Minister said that it was not true and affirmed that in the process of reform and improvement, the terms “breaking” and change were normal.

In particular, the reform of the management process in return for 1.02% of administrative procedure costs was not small. According to the research conducted by Trade Facilitation Project funded by USAID, it was estimated that if applying this draft Decree for one year, the compliance cost of administrative procedures will save approximately VND 1,400 billion. Thereby, the overall saving value for the economy can reach VND 9,285 billion. This was not a small number.

After the meeting, the Deputy Minister requested the General Department of Vietnam Customs to carefully review each piece of content, listen carefully, and objectively evaluate comments to receive and explain the issues raised. Then complete a full copy and send it to units. That will be the basis for the specialized unit to report to the leaders of the specialized management ministries for responding by document or expressing the consensus.


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