Food Import Procedure in India and FSSAI’s Latest Regulatory Changes
We discuss the step-by-step procedures for food imports in India, highlighting the latest regulatory advisory from the industry regulator, FSSAI, which streamlines clearance procedures for certain imported ingredients and food items. This recent move by FSSAI simplifies import processes, leading to reduced time and costs for importers. Notably, this move expands access to vital raw materials, providing significant advantages to manufacturers and processors aiming to create high-quality export-oriented products.
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In a move aimed at enhancing ease of doing business in the Indian food industry, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has announced a significant change in clearance procedures for certain imported ingredients and food items. In a recent advisory, the food safety authority made it clear that the customs department would no longer be obligated to secure FSSAI clearances for food ingredients or items that are brought into India with the intent of re-export or for the production of value-added items specifically destined for export markets.
Addressing importer concerns
This decision by the food safety authority comes in response to concerns raised by importers who had experienced delays in obtaining clearances for imported food consignments that were designated for captive use or for the production of value-added products intended exclusively for 100 percent export or re-exports.
Key highlights of the FSSAI directive
The FSSAI advisory underlines the following key points:
- Exemption for export-oriented items: Unless explicitly specified, customs authorities are no longer required to refer imported food articles to the FSSAI for clearance if these articles are intended for export, in accordance with existing guidelines. This also applies to export-rejected or re-imported food articles designated for re-export.
- Waiver for food items imported by manufacturers or processors: The FSSAI has also waived the need for clearances for food ingredients or items imported by manufacturers or processors for their captive use or production of value-added products for 100 per cent exports. This waiver also applies to food items imported by sister concerns or wholly-owned subsidiaries of manufacturers or processors for 100 percent export production, provided the consignments are accompanied by a sanitary or health certificate issued by the competent authority of the exporting country.
How will these waivers benefit the export-oriented businesses?
FSSAI’s strategic move to waive clearances emerges as a catalyst for a more efficient, accessible, and globally competitive food industry in India. It is anticipated to offer several advantages to importers and manufacturers, including:
- Streamlined import process: By removing the clearance requirements, FSSAI has effectively streamlined the import process. This translates into a significant reduction in both time and costs associated with importing food items. Importers can now navigate the import procedures more swiftly and economically, fostering a more efficient business environment.
- Enhanced access to raw materials: The waiver of clearances has opened up new avenues for businesses in India. Manufacturers, in particular, stand to gain as they can now easily access the necessary raw materials. This accessibility is pivotal for the production of value-added goods destined for export markets. With a seamless supply chain, businesses can enhance their production capabilities, leading to increased efficiency and competitiveness in the global market.
- Enhanced export opportunities: One of the most significant impacts of this decision is the boost it provides to India’s food exports. With the removal of hurdles in importing essential ingredients, businesses can scale up their production of high-quality food products meant for international markets. This increased export potential not only strengthens individual businesses but also contributes substantially to the growth of India’s overall food export sector. By ensuring a steady supply of high-quality raw materials, Indian businesses can more effectively cater to global demand, further boosting the country’s food exports.
Procedure to import foods in India
Acquire Importer-Exporter Code (IEC)
Obtaining an Importer-Exporter Code (IEC) is a crucial step when importing or exporting goods to or from India. The importing party should apply for an IEC well in advance, as it is a prerequisite for obtaining the necessary licenses and No Objection Certificate (NOC).
Obtaining FSSAI importer license
Obtaining an FSSAI Importer License is a crucial requirement for those importing food products or ingredients into India. This license is essential for traceability and compliance with food safety regulations. To apply for the FSSAI Importer License, following steps should be followed:
- Visit the official website of Food Safety Compliance System (FoSCoS) and navigate to the “License/Registration” section from the homepage.
- Choose the state and carefully read any notes or instructions provided before proceeding with the application.
- Under the “Group Heads of Kind of Business,” select “Importer” under the trade/retail category.
- Within the Importers KOB section, review the definition and select the option to apply for a central license. Then, click on the “Proceed” button.
- Complete all mandatory fields as outlined in Form B. Pay special attention when providing your communication details, as all official correspondence will be conducted through the contact information provided, such as mobile number or email address. Additionally, fill in the GST/PAN/CIN details as applicable to the firm or company.
- On the Product Selection page, provide the necessary information for DGFT (Directorate General of Foreign Trade) authentication. Click “Proceed with DGFT Authentication” to verify the details and then click “Save” to store the information.
- After successfully completing the DGFT validation, click “Save & Next.” Pay the required fees using the available modes of payment and submit the application.
- Upload all the required documents, which typically include:
- List of Directors/Partners/Proprietor/Executive Members of Society/Trust with full address and contact details.
- Photo ID and address proof issued by the governing authority of the Proprietor/Partner/Directors/Authorized Signatory.
- Partnership Deed/Self Declaration for proprietorship/Memorandum of Articles of Association detailing the firm’s constitution.
- Form IX (Nomination of persons by a company along with the Board Resolution), although this is not required in the case of a Proprietorship Firm.
- IE Code document issued by the DGFT.
- Upon completing the payment process, a receipt with a 17-digit reference number will be generated. This reference number can be used for future reference and tracking.
- The users can monitor the status of their application through the FoSCoS homepage.
Prior to the arrival of a food consignment at an Indian air or seaport, it is crucial for the importing food business operator to initiate the customs clearance process.
Here are the steps involved in customs clearance for imported food items:
- Authorization letter to Customs Handling Agent (CHA): The importing food business operator must prepare an Authority Letter in favor of a Customs Handling Agent (CHA). This letter is addressed to the FSSAI or Authorized Officer and grants the CHA the authority to represent the importer in customs clearance proceedings.
- Arrival of the consignment: Upon the arrival of the food consignment at the Indian port of entry (air or seaport), the authorized Customs Handling Agent takes charge of the process.
- Application for clearance: The Customs Handling Agent, armed with the authorization letter, proceeds to apply for the clearance of the consignment with the Department of Customs. This application typically involves the submission of a Bill of Entry, which is a formal document containing details of the imported goods, their value, and other relevant information.
- Customs verification: A Government Customs Agent conducts a thorough verification of the consignment. This process includes inspecting the physical condition of the goods to check for any visible issues, such as insect infestations or damage.
- Customs formalities: The Government Customs Agent clears the consignment after all customs formalities have been completed. This may include verifying that the applicable customs duties and taxes have been paid.
- Payment of customs duty: The importing food business operator is responsible for paying the customs duties and taxes required for the clearance of the food consignment. The payment is typically made based on the assessed value of the imported goods and in accordance with Indian customs regulations.
- Customs clearance certificate: Once the customs formalities are successfully completed, and all required payments have been made, the Government Customs Agent issues a Customs Clearance Certificate, allowing the consignment to proceed to the next stage of the import process.
Application for FSSAI clearance
When applying for FSSAI clearance for imported food products in India, the Customs Handling Agent must follow a detailed process and provide specific documents. Here is a summary of the documents required for FSSAI clearance:
- IEC issued by the DGFT.
- FSSAI food business license.
- Bill of Entry.
- Examination order generated by the EDI system of Customs, requiring NOC from FSSAI.
Additional documents (case-to-case basis):
- Import permit issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India (for primary agriculture produce/horticultural produce).
- Sanitary import permit issued by the Department of Animal Husbandry, Government of India (for livestock products).
- Registration of import contracts for poppy seeds with Central Bureau of Narcotics, Gwalior.
- Certificate of origin issued by an authorized person/agency at the place of manufacturing/processing, including information on country of origin (if the consignor is from a different country).
- Phyto-sanitary certificate issued by the Plant Quarantine Department of the exporting country (for primary agriculture/horticulture produce) with fumigation endorsement.
- Certificate of analysis with composition details (Ingredients) – especially for products like wine and whiskey (test certificate).
- End-use declaration, where the food importer declares the intended use of the imported food product.
- Pumping guarantee certificate (for edible oil imported in bulk).
- List of transit countries if the food consignment is trans-shipped through more than one country.
- Temperature chart/report/graph, if the food consignment is trans-shipped under cold chain technologies (CCT) from the port of origin to the point of import.
- Stuffing list and Packing List.
- Commercial invoice as mentioned in the Bill of Entry.
- Bill of Lading (for sea consignment) or Air Way Bill (for air consignment) as mentioned in the Bill of Entry.
- Declaration by the manufacturer regarding representative sealed sample (in the case of aseptic packages) from the same batch of the consignment.
- Undertaking from the Importer in case of absence of representative sample for aseptic packages.
- Documents filed in customs at the time of export in the case of reimport, along with a copy of the rejection certificate issued by officials of the importing country and reasons for rejection(s) leading to reimport into India.
- High sea sale agreement.
- Radio activity certificate, if irradiation is used.
- Any other reports/documents/undertakings/affidavits as directed by the authorized officer or the food authority.
Visual inspection and laboratory analysis by FSSAI
After the application is submitted in the Food Import Clearance System (FICS) with the necessary documents, an FSSAI officer conducts a thorough verification. If additional information is required, the officer may request it. Once the application is accepted, the importer is required to deposit fees for FSSAI clearance, which is determined based on the number of samples.
A visual inspection of the consignment is scheduled by the FSSAI Officer. During this inspection, the following parameters are verified:
- Physical condition: The shipment is checked for visible insects and fungal infestation.
- Remaining shelf life: The valid remaining shelf life of the product should be more than 60 percent of its original shelf life at the time of import clearance.
- Compliance with regulations: The consignment is examined for compliance with the FSS (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations, 2011, and product-specific labeling requirements.
- Labeling deficiencies: Any labeling deficiencies are noted, including the importer’s name and address, FSSAI logo and license number, and veg/non-veg symbols.
After the visual inspection, two samples are drawn from the consignment for testing. One sample is sent to a randomly selected laboratory via the FICS. The second sample is stored under appropriate conditions for potential re-testing, if necessary.
The laboratory analyzes the imported food samples according to the parameters defined in the Food Safety and Standards Act and Regulations. The lab is required to send its report to the authorized officer within five days, providing a conclusive opinion about whether the tested product conforms or is non-conforming to the specified standards.
Approval of food product imported in India
The final step in the process of importing food products into India involves obtaining clearance and approval from the FSSAI. It entails the following steps:
Laboratory report confirmation
If the authorized laboratory issues a report confirming that the food consignment conforms to the FSSAI regulations, this report serves as an important document in the clearance process. It indicates that the imported food product meets the safety and quality standards set by the FSSAI.
No objection certificate (NOC)
Based on the laboratory’s report, the FSSAI Officer will issue a NOC if the food product conforms to the FSSAI regulations. This NOC essentially confirms that the imported food product is safe, compliant, and approved for consumption in India. It is a crucial document that allows the food product to enter the Indian market.
Non-conformance certificate (NCC)
In cases where the laboratory report indicates that the food consignment does not conform to the FSSAI regulations, a Non-Conformance Certificate (NCC) may be issued. This certificate signifies that the product failed to meet the required standards, and it may lead to rejection or other regulatory actions.
Clearance for import
Once the NOC is issued and the food product is deemed compliant, it can be cleared for import into India. The customs handling agent will facilitate the release of the consignment from the customs warehouse.
Essential labeling requirements for imported food products in India
Labeling requirements for food import in India are essential to ensure that food products meet the standards set by the FSSAI. Here are the key labeling requirements for food imports in India:
- Labelling language: Labels must adhere to the FSSAI Packaging & Labelling Regulations, 2011, and specific product-related labeling requirements. Compliance with the Food Safety & Standards (Import) Regulations, 2017, is mandatory.
- Volume and net weight: The packaging should clearly state the volume of contents and net weight of the product.
- Best before date: Products must display the “Best Before” date, indicating the date until which the product is expected to remain at its best quality.
- Nutritional information: Nutritional facts and information, including details about calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, should be provided on the label.
- Brand, company, and product name: The label must include the name of the brand, company, and the specific product name.
- Product description and ingredients: A detailed product description, along with the names of the ingredients used in the product, must be provided. This is crucial for consumers with allergies or dietary restrictions.
- Vegetarian and non-vegetarian declaration: Vegetarian and non-vegetarian products should be clearly distinguished using appropriate symbols.
- Batch, code, or lot number: Each batch of products must have a unique identification number, code, or lot number for traceability.
- Importer’s name and address: The label should include the name and address of the importer in India.
- Country of origin: The country of origin of the product must be clearly stated on the label.
- Instructions for use: If applicable, the label should provide clear instructions on how to use or consume the product.
- Storage instructions: Information about storage conditions, such as temperature and humidity, should be included.
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