Procedure for Food Imports in India
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India as an economy is engaged with numerous other countries for trading of goods & services. Indian Government, over the years, has signed various international agreements and treaties like FTA (Free Trade Agreement), Bilateral & Multilateral Trade pacts with other countries to facilitate import and export of goods like garments, spices, food products, and services like BPOs, KPOs etc. In the case of food products in India, the Government of India regulates the import of food products through various departmenst and agencies. The apex governmental organization for this sole purpose is Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). It has developed a Standard Operating Procedures for clearance of imported food products into India. If the import of the food products is not as per the FSSAI regulations and prescribed procedures were not followed during their imports, the whole consignment will be rejected and will not be allowed for domestic consumption. An FBO who is involved in importing food products in India must know the FSSAI regulations and procedures for import of that particular food product. The details of all the licenses and permits required for a Food Import Business are as follows:
Requirements to be a registered food importer
- The business has to be registered as a proprietorship, partnership, private limited company or a public limited company.
- Vat (Value Added Tax) Registration with concerned authority for domestic sale.
- Importer Exporter Code (IE Code) issued by the Director General of Foreign Trade.
- Product approval if the food product to be imported comes under non-standardized product category.
- FSSAI has an automated Food Imports Clearance System (FICS). An importer may file the required compliances under FICS or for custom clearance on his own or he may hire a Custom Handling Agent (CHA) for the same.
Stages for consignment clearance under FICS
After the consignment containing imported food product arrives in India, it has to undergo the following stages for clearance enabling it to be sold in the Indian market.
An FBO has to apply to the Department of Customs and file the necessary documents for the generation of Bill of Entry and Examination order for the consignment. This examination order is generated by Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) system of Customs, requiring NOC from FSSAI.
Application Provisional NOC to Food Import clearance system (FICS) of FSSAI
The importer / CHA after generation of Bill of Entry and examination order shall make an application for No objection certificate or Provisional NOC to Food Import clearance system (FICS) of FSSAI. The preliminary documents required to make such an application is as under:
FSSAI License issued under FSS Act 2006;
Bill of Entry;
Examination order is generated by Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) system of Customs;
Product approval, if required
Scrutiny of documents by an Authorized officer of FSSAI
The authorized officer of FSSAI shall verify each and every document submitted by the importer and may ask for any clarification if required. If, after due verification and scrutiny the documents are found to be in order, the authorized officer raises demand for the requisite fee as per the number of samples applied for clearance.
Visual inspection of the consignment and sampling thereof by the Authorized officer of FSSAI
After the deposit of fee by the importer/ CHA, the authorized officer shall inform the date and time of visual inspection of the consignment which shall be duly acknowledged by importer/CHA. After visual examination of the consignment and being ensured about the remaining balance shelf life, the authorized officer shall draw two samples in the presence of importer or his representative and shall seal and label it. Out of these two sealed and labeled samples, one shall be sent to the notified laboratory and the second sample must be preserved for retesting if required.
Laboratory analysis of samples collected
The food samples thus collected are analyzed by the laboratory as per the standards and parameters and its report is sent to the authorized officer of FSSAI with a conclusion whether the product tested conforms to the standards and parameters prescribed under FSS Act 2006.
Issuance of No objection certificate or Provisional NOC by Food Import clearance system (FICS) of FSSAI
On the basis of the laboratory report, the No Objection Certificate (NOC) or Non-Conformance Certificate is generated.
This NOC is then submitted by the FSSAI official to the Customs authorities with the Department of Customs and the consignment is cleared for trade or use in India.
If the consignment is of perishable foods items or Fresh fruits along with the food which requires special storage conditions (Refrigerated warehouse), a provisional NOC is issued without waiting for a laboratory analysis report on the basis of the undertaking of the importer.