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[Updated] South Korea Streamlines Customs Clearance Policies

Foods that can enjoy the fast customs clearance are expanded to flavorings (which belong to food additives) and semi-finished products. The disposable utensils will be inspected by product materials instead of types. Updates on September 15, 2023: South Korea to allow the electronic sanitary certification of livestock products imported from EU

*This article is orginially published on May 8, 2023 and got updated on September 15, 2023. The new policies about electronic sanitary certification of livestock products newly added and marked in red below.

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) held its second positive administrative committee1 on May 2, 2023, deliberating and resolving several issues of great concern, including expanding the scope of fast clearance for imported foods and streamlining the management of disposable utensils, such as disposable cups and spoons.

Firstly, the fast customs clearance for planned imports will be expanded.

Background information

The fast customs clearance for planned   imports is a system that allows imported food products whose safety has been   confirmed as safe to be cleared quickly within 5 minutes, if the annual   planned import volume is approved in advance. The fast customs clearance was   limited to foods imported by good importers registered under the Imported Food Act2. The normal customs clearance usually   takes 2 days.

MFDS decided to expand the scope of fast customs clearance to the internationally widely used flavorings (which belong to food additives) that have no history of import non-conformity, and the semi-finished products including raw sugar, crude oil, crude liquor, and sea salt, which need to be produced in South Korea as final products of sugar, edible oil, liquor, and salt through reprocessing. This movement is expected to help smooth the supply of raw materials and reduce logistics costs. 

Additionally, MFDS planned to improve the inspection of six types of disposable utensils (disposable cups, spoons, chopsticks, forks, knives, and straws). If these disposable utensils are made in the same material and are  from the same manufacturer but only differ in shape, they only need go through the inspections once. For example, when Company A imports plastic spoons and forks made of the same material by the same manufacturer, the forks can be imported without a separate inspection if the inspection result for the spoons is appropriate. This measure will help ease the economic burden on business entities by reducing inspection costs.

Updates on September 15, 2023: South Korea to allow the electronic sanitary certification of livestock products imported from EU 

South Korea and the European Union (EU) signed an agreement for cooperation in the electronic sanitary certification of livestock products on September 13, 2023 at Brussels, Belgium, where the EU headquarters is located. 

Livestock products imported from the EU account for approximately 28% of South Korea's total imported livestock products. With the agreement between the South Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) and two EU agencies, the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) and the Directorate-General for Trade (DG TRADE), cooperation for the introduction of electronic sanitary certification between the two regions has been formalized. It is planned that electronic sanitary certification will be applied in the customs inspection process for livestock products imported from the EU's 27 member countries as early as the first half of 2025. 

The key points of the agreement include the recognition of the importance of electronic sanitary certification and harmonized cooperation on certification documents, as well as the development and implementation schedule of the electronic sanitary certification system. 

MFDS has been collaborating with the EU to transition to the electronic exchange of livestock product sanitary certificates since December 2021. This collaboration has included the exchange of common formats (drafts) for certificates, the establishment of administrative agreements (drafts), and the organization of working-level meetings. The aim of this agreement is to utilize digital technology in import inspections and improve the inspection system.

The signing of this agreement marks a significant step toward the modernization of the inspection system through the use of digital technology in import inspections of livestock products. It is expected to enhance food safety and facilitate trade between South Korea and the EU.

The South Korean government has already applied electronic sanitary certification to livestock products imported from Australia, Chile, and Thailand. In addition to the agreement with the EU, South Korea has also signed agreements on electronic sanitary certification cooperation with Brazil and New Zealand earlier this year and is in the process of establishing computer systems for these partnerships.

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