Importing FOODS to Japan: What you need to know?


Posted on January 15, 2021



Looking to import food to Japan? Here’s everything you need to know about Japan’s food import regulations.

Like many other countries, Japan has rules and procedures when it comes to importing foods. When importing foods to Japan, the company must ensure they are in compliance with Japan’s Food Import regulations.

What are the statutes for food import procedures?

Before even taking a closer look at the importation procedures technicalities, companies must identify the key barriers to entry that derive from Japan’s Food Import regulations and do due diligence before importing their products.

Regulating Food Imports is based on the following laws: the Food Safety Basic Law, the Food Sanitation Law, the Health Promotion Law, the Japan Agricultural Standards Law, the Plant Protection Law, Domestic Animal Infectious Diseases Control Law, the Food Labeling Law, and finally, the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Law.

Because applicable regulations differ by product classification, importers should ensure they identify their products correctly according to Japan’s food and drink product classification, in particular, whenever fresh or raw. It is also essential that they understand how critical product quality is to the Japanese food and beverage industry and in consumers’ minds.

Can anyone import foods into Japan?

Despite Japan’s strict control over importations, anyone can import food and drink to Japan. As long as importers dutifully follow the requirements and have all the commercial, health etc. documentation in order, they do not need to hold an import license.

What are the key steps to import food to Japan?

Despite the Japanese authorities’ tremendous efforts on improving process transparency, Japan’s import regime is still hard to grasp today. To smooth out import processes, they’ve set up a prior consultation system in place.

 

Prior consultation

While inquiring Japanese authorities prior to importation isn’t mandatory, we strongly encourage potential importers to go through the prior consultation with the quarantine station of the intended port of entry before starting the importation process.

The prior consultation can facilitate and speed up the product importation procedure. It is an essential step for products new to the Japanese market, on which the Japanese inspectors will spend a great deal of time, asking for detailed ingredient lists, precise explanations about the manufacturing processes, flow charts, and various certifications. Without the help of local experts, new foreign products often fail to meet Japan’s high-quality standards.

COVUE can help smooth out the communication with Japanese inspectors ahead of time, especially when product sampling and testing are required prior to import. Highly experienced in Japan’s import regulations, our experts will help you navigate this process, letting you focus on the work that matters.

 

STEP 1: Import Notification of Food Products to Japan

 Based on the Food Sanitation Law, any person intending to import food to Japan must submit an import notification to the quarantine station at the intended port of entry prior to entering the Japanese market.

Import notification form

This form, available for printing here, provides various information on the imported product, from the manufacturer’s details to ingredients, additives, and other relevant remarks. Importers can fill it out in either English or Japanese. They can submit a hardcopy by post or in person at the quarantine station. While the MHLW has set up an online system, the Food Automated Import Notification and Inspection Network System ( FAINS), doing so requires prior registration with the ministry.

The import notification form can be submitted a maximum of 7-days before the products arrive at the port of entry and more importantly, before the product’s clear customs. Importers can find more details on the procedure in place to import food to Japan with the MHLW’s English guidance.

Step 2: Quarantine and cargo inspection

Whether the cargo arrives by ship or by air, it’ll be transported into a designated bonded area. The importer has to submit the import notification to the appropriate quarantine station.

Whenever importing agricultural or livestock products, importers should go through prior consultation with the Animal Quarantine Service or the Plant Protection Station (both under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ authority) to determine whether a quarantine and inspection will be required.

In most cases, under the Plant Protection Law and the Domestic Animal Infectious Diseases Control Law, a cargo quarantine and in-depth inspection are mandatory. The applicable procedure derives from the product classification, notably if the product is fresh or raw, from the processing methods

With the exception of highly processed food and beverage products, raw and fresh agricultural, livestock, fishery, dairy products must go through quarantine at the Plant protection station or Animal quarantine service.

 

While a cargo inspection isn’t always required, the quarantine station inspectors may based on the import notification and product classification, conduct an inspection.

What is the purpose of the inspection?

Japanese inspectors verify that imported products are compliant with Japan’s food import regulations:

  • • Does the product meet domestic manufacturing standards?
  • • Are the ingredients and additives permitted? Are they compliant with local regulations?
  • • Does the manufacturer, exporter, or importer have a history of failing to meet food safety requirements?

They take a close look at the accompanying documentation, investigate manufacturing processes, ingredients, materials, and additives. They can go as far as testing the imported product in laboratories.

 

How does the inspection take place?

The quarantine station can conduct two types of inspections: a monitoring inspection or an ordered inspection.

The first one consists of a product sampling and monitoring test at the quarantine station, to determine the presence or not of pathogens and hazardous substances. If the test fails, the exporter/importer can try to remediate the detected issues until the product is finally compliant with Japan’s SPS.

The second type of inspection, more serious, is an administrative assessment of the product whenever a cargo is suspected to violate Japanese laws. While the procedure is pending, the products cannot enter Japan’s market. Costs associated with sampling and testing are supported by the importers. In case of a rejection, the cargo is denied entry, returned to the exporter, or disposed of.

 

Step 3: Obtaining the certificate of notification

 Once the accompanying documentation has been checked and the cargo cleared, the quarantine station will issue a certificate of notification to the importer. The imported products are ready to go through customs clearance and enter Japan’s food and beverage market.

 

Importing foods to Japan? Want to know if your products are applicable to Japan Food Import regulations? Let COVUE handle so you can focus on what matters!

As we mentioned, everyone can import food and beverage products to Japan. With the exception of alcoholic beverages, there is no particular need for an import license.

But importing requires great attention to detail and technical requirements of Japan’s regulations and compliance. Only experience and local expertise can help overcome some of the complicated procedures to Japan’s market entry.

COVUE’s regulatory experts can help you speed up the process so you don’t have to worry about the regulations and hassles and can focus on your business. We’d be happy to help you out!

 

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