Importing Food Products into Singapore

Singapore being a land-scarce nation devoid of any natural resources, imports most of its food requirements, which is estimated to be about 90% of total food consumption. The virtual absence of agriculture, livestock farming and aquaculture and the need to meet the gastronomic demands of a population base of over four million people and over 7 million tourists per year, stimulates the imports from neighboring countries.

Singapore is considered the most developed food retail market in Southeast Asia. Wet markets account for a major share of the sales of items such as vegetables, seafood, rice, eggs, chicken and pork. As household incomes keep growing and mall culture is taking deeper roots the share of supermarkets and hypermarkets in sales of food products is growing across all categories.

Singapore is the tourist and transportation hub of South East Asia and has a very large food service industry with many hotels, restaurants, airline caterers, ship handlers, hospitals, and clubs. This opens up another dimension of opportunity in trade of fine gourmet food products and supplies. Singapore serves as a headquarters for a number of major regional and international companies in the food service industries, providing administrative and financial support for business establishments in other countries in the region. Additionally, Singapore provides a direct sourcing and distribution center for many food products sold in the region, either through re-exporting or processing for value-added products. As the overall economies of the region continue to grow, the role that Singapore plays in the food trade will increase.

Overview

Although Singapore manufactures food products for exports to the neighboring countries, most of the ingredients have to be imported. In an attempt to diversify exports the government promotes import, improvement and re-export of many food products to other Asian markets. The influx of expatriate population has immensely influenced the Singaporean food culture, which is getting receptive to pan Asian and western style of cuisines and food products. Apart from the locals the proliferating expatriate population from different parts of the globe especially from the Indian subcontinent generates a novel market segment which keeps growing. This particular segment is habituated to consumption of home made food hence the demand for supplies of vegetables, spices and other condiments is mounting.
Singapore allows free import of food supplies and products but as a country reputed for food safety and hygiene, it has strict regulatory regimes to ensure the safety of food and food supplies that are being imported into the country. The Agri – Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and Food Control Department are the major governing bodies of Food trade. The exports to Singapore are primarily controlled through regulations imposed on the importers.

Fresh Food Import

The import of fresh fruits and vegetables is regulated under the Control of Plants Act. It stipulates that the produce should not contain any prohibited pesticide, and the levels of pesticide residue or toxic chemical residue should not exceed the prescribed levels. The containers (eg cartons, baskets) of fresh fruits and vegetable must be labeled specifying

  • the Name and address of the producer of the products
  • Product description
  • Date of export/packing

Upon landing, the consignment may be subject to inspection by the AVA authorities, and the importer must obtain an import permit for every consignment. To this effect, it is significant to ensure documents such as bills of lading, air waybills and invoices are properly maintained by the parties involved. It is important to verify that the importing party that you are dealing with has a valid License for Import and Transshipment of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables issued by the AVA.

Import of Processed Food

The regulations regarding processed food are relatively rigorous. Importers are required to source products from regulated establishments where, the food is produced under proper sanitary conditions. Therefore it is essential that aspiring traders and manufacturers adhere to quality assurance procedures that are acceptable to the AVA. To enforce this AVA demands the importers to submit certified-true-copy documents, from the food safety authority of the country of origin, certifying that the imported food product is produced or manufactured by a licensed or regulated premises.

The processed food Products which are being assessed for import into Singapore will be subjected to Sale of Food Act which stipulates regulations on:

  • Packaging
  • Sale by date/expiration date
  • Labeling requirements
  • The minimum or permitted levels of certain constituents of each food type

All imported processed food products are subjected to inspection. Certain food products have been identified through trend studies and classifieds as high risk products hence, requires pre-market assessment such as laboratory testing reports and health certificates to ensure the safety of the products. Health certificates, issued by the authorities of the country of origin must contain the following details:

  • Description of product and packaging (including brand, trademark, if any)
  • Quantity, by weight
  • Name and address of the processing establishment
  • Name and address of consignor
  • Name and address of consignee

Import of Meat & Seafood

The import of meat products and processed egg products into Singapore is regulated under the Wholesome Meat and Fish Act. Meat products may only be imported from source countries and its establishments (slaughterhouses, meat and egg processing establishments) that are approved by the AVA and it has to be noted that India does not feature in the list.

Seafood of all varieties in chilled, frozen, processed or canned forms can be exported from any country to Singapore; no qualifying restrictions have been laid as in the case of meat. However chilled shucked raw oyster, chilled cockle meat, chilled cooked prawn/shrimp and chilled crab meat is prohibited for food safety reasons. Live oysters may only be imported from countries which meet AVA’s requirements for a shellfish sanitation programme. Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom and USA are the countries that are currently approved for exporting this category of seafood.

A Health Certificate issued by the relevant authority of the exporting country, certifying that Singapore’s animal health and food safety requirements have been complied with, must accompany every consignment of live/frozen oysters, frozen blood cockle meat, frozen cooked prawns or frozen raw/cooked crab meat. Export of certain fish species including their parts or derivatives must be accompanied by a CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora is an international agreement to protect endangered species) permit issued by the exporting country.

Singapore Government endeavors to expand the list of source countries for certain food items in order to ensure adequate supply while remaining resilient on the quality, safety and health standards. In the CECA signed between India and Singapore in 2005, Singapore has facilitated the import of egg products, dairy products and packaged drinking water from India.

On a final note

The Singapore government’s food import policy is to guarantee a steady and sufficient supply of healthy and quality foods from a broad number of countries. Tariffs are imposed on liquor only. With the exception of rice, there is no quantitative restriction on import and export, or domestic sales controls on agricultural products. However, Singapore maintains a system of strict sanitary and phyto-sanitary requirements. For a trader who ensures that, his supplies are of premium quality and documentations are immaculate it will be a smooth takeoff into Singapore which being a transshipment hub will even serve as a springboard into the regional markets.

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