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Quarantine matters! So said Steve Irwin, and love or hate the crocodile hunter, he got it right this time.

Rebecca Spicer goes behind the quarantine and customs scenes to find out what exporters need to know and where they can find help.

A key challenge for businesses looking to export is how they’ll actually get their product out of Australia and into the hands of their importer overseas—without being stopped by Customs for not meeting certain quarantine requirements.

To have product cleared for export by Customs both in Australia and the import market, Australian exporters have a requirement to meet certain health and safety standards in the quality of their product, and in the packaging.

Quarantine regulations for exporters will vary depending on their type of product and import market. However, all exporters, regardless of the type of product, need to consider regulations regarding the packaging of their goods being sent overseas. “Exporters who use wooden packaging or pallets, packing materials such as straw or rice hulls, or used fruit or vegetable cartons, may face quarantine problems in other countries—all of these materials represent a potential risk for insects (especially wooden packaging or pallets), and other pests or diseases,” says Carson Creagh, spokesperson for the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS).

He advises exporters check the International Phytosanitary Portal at www.ippc.int for information on certain international standards, and also contact the relevant authorities—quarantine, Customs or agricultural agencies—in the countries to which they are exporting, as each country imposes different regulations on the packaging of imported products.

Export Product Requirements

“All of Australia’s agricultural exports, including food exports, must meet importing country requirements. Those requirements vary from one country to another, and can also change according to the emergence of new diseases or in response to new policies,” explains Creagh. “Under the Export Control Act, exports of so-called prescribed goods such as meat, fish, dairy, plant products and grains are prohibited unless AQIS supplies certification.

“AQIS certifies that agricultural or food commodities for export meet importing countries’ pest and disease freedom or processing requirements. We warrant on behalf of the Australian Government that goods being sent meet importing countries’ own quarantine and food standards or other special requirements.”

Some prescribed goods intended for export must be prepared at AQIS registered and approved premises. And to ensure the quality of product, most prescribed goods must undergo some form of inspection to verify they are safe and accurately described, and to ensure foreign government requirements and Australia’s international obligations are met. For example, all livestock must begin a process of testing and/or vaccination, and so on, in preparation for export according to the health protocols agreed between the two countries, says Mike O’Neil, South Pacific manager of perishables and livestock at DHL Global Forwarding, and chairman of the New South Wales Airfreight Council.

In line with Australian government fee-for-service requirements, AQIS charges inspection fees for export commodities. These fees will vary according to time, travel and other requirements. The AQIS website (www.aqis.gov.au) contains information on basic fee schedules.

Prescribed goods require an export clearance number (ECN) for clearance through the Australian Customs system and may also require certification to enable entry into the importing country. For meat, hides and skins, fish, dairy, horticulture and grains, documentation may be lodged electronically with AQIS via the EXDOC (electronic certification) system. Exporters must register with the EXDOC system before documentation can be issued in their name. More detailed information on commodity-specific requirements can be found at www.aqis.gov.au/legislation

“Almost all countries have special requirements regarding imports, whether these relate to pest and disease freedom or processing requirements,” explains Creagh. “Many countries look to the European Union’s import requirements as a benchmark—the EU has very strict requirements for imports of meat and horticultural products. Japan also has stringent requirements for imports of meat, seafood, fruit and other products. Both markets are important for Australian exporters.”

Learning the quarantine requirements of the importing country will involve cooperation between the exporter and importer. To get your products through quarantine and Customs in your target market, O’Neil recommends seeking advice on the latest health protocol situation from the overseas importer first. “Most often, the importer is a regular importer who has extensive experience in the local rules and regulations covering the product entering their own country from Australia.”

Exporters who use a combination of imported and domestic Australian product must still meet importing country requirements. “AQIS must certify that all export product meets those requirements. In some cases, both Australia and the original exporting country must provide export certificates to authorities in the importing country,” says Creagh.

Quarantine provisions may also apply to some non-prescribed goods, depending on the requirements of the importing country. Quarantine regulations in Australia and in export destinations can also change overnight in response to emerging diseases, outbreaks of disease (in exporting countries or in other parts of the world), or as a result of a need to adjust import requirements to guard against disease risks. So it’s important to keep up to date with these changes, either through your AQIS export facilitator, freight forwarder, or relevant agencies in your importing market.

Quarantine Requirements

Exporters can either deal directly with AQIS to handle their own quarantine requirements or can use a freight forwarder. New exporters looking for assistance with importing country requirements can speak to an AQIS export facilitation officer, and established exporters can work closely with AQIS export program officers, who will keep them informed of changes to importing country pest and disease freedom requirements. “AQIS also offers up-to-date information for plant and plant product exporters through its PHYTO system; for live animal and reproductive product exporters through ANIMEX; and for all agricultural sector exporters through the EXDOC electronic certification system,” says Creagh. This information is available under ‘Exporting goods from Australia’ on the AQIS website.

There is also the option to outsource this part of the logistics process to a freight forwarder. This can sometimes be a more costly but effective option for small, under-resourced businesses. “Most unprocessed food requires inspection and validation of health certification prior to export,” explains O’Neil. “A properly accredited airfreight forwarder, operating from an approved establishment, is able to provide this inspection and validation service for certain products under approvals granted to them by AQIS.”

For example, exporters are not generally permitted to send most fresh/frozen food products for airfreight export direct to the airport, they must be loaded ‘off-airport’ by an AQIS approved forwarder. “A forwarder handling sufficient volume, and with appropriate AQIS approved cold-stores and handling equipment, provides a very economical link in the export chain,” says O’Neil.

He warns, however, that only a few freight forwarders currently provide this service a
nd no forwarders are qualified to inspect and validate livestock or poultry.

Important Links

Quarantine Case Study

Export Brew

Mountain Top Coffee—a coffee farm and integrated coffee processing and marketing business in Nimbin, New South Wales—is no stranger to quarantine issues.

The company has been exporting almost since its first crop was harvested in 2003. “We felt we could make more money and get more value on the raw product by exporting it,” says founder, Andrew Ford.

Mountain Top now exports to nearly every western country in the world, accounting for 80 percent of its business.

Ford admits he knew nothing about quarantine requirements when he launched into exporting. He immediately engaged the help of a freight forwarder, recommended for his experience in freighting coffee globally. “It’s more cost-effective to have someone who

knows what they’re doing and will do it properly,” Ford says. “When we get critical mass to the point that we can afford to have somebody relatively full-time concentrating on the shipments and export, we will then bring it in-house. But we’re probably three to five years from that.”

Ford’s freight forwarder keeps him up to speed on any quarantine requirements he has to meet in target export markets, so he can adjust the product and packaging accordingly, and the forwarder also handles the paperwork and logistics involved in getting quarantine clearance.

Ford’s core export markets are the US and Japan, both of which, he says, have very strict quarantine controls. Due to new security measures put in place since September 11, new regulations are implemented through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has strict regulations on the import of products and the supporting paper trail. Mountain Top has to register with the USDA as a registered food facility, and then for every shipment they have another number, which is a pre-shipment allocation. “So, once we get these two numbers, which allow us to be a registered facility and to export goods to the US, every time we ship goods we have to complete a form and use these two numbers on that form,” explains Ford. “For all our commercial freight, our freight forwarder does this. But we still need to complete that documentation for sample deliveries.”

Over and above those two regulations, when exporting to the US and Japan, Mountain Top needs to supply a certificate of origin, as well as a phytosanitary certificate, which ensures the packaging material and container meets a certain requirement.

So, as Ford says, getting your products out of Australia isn’t simply a matter of putting a label on them and sending them to a port for shipment. “When the goods land down in Sydney, our export port, we send them to a bonded warehouse where an AQIS official takes a sample from every bag and inspects the packaging.” All the relevant documentation needs be at the port at least two days before the product arrives, and the product needs to arrive at least seven days prior to sailing.

Ford did come across a hurdle this year when the company changed its packaging from a hessian bag to using a plastic foil bag, which is vacuum-packed and gas-flushed. The day of shipment it became apparent that AQIS officials would need to go through the same inspection process—damaging the contents of the new packaging and the quality of the product.

As a result the business has had to change to an alternative system of quarantine inspection, where the quarantine service goes to Mountain Top’s packaging facility and inspects the goods while they’re being packed. “So, we will register our processing and packaging facility as an AQIS approved packaging facility,” says Ford. “When we’re packaging our goods every year, they will come and inspect the goods, they will sample the goods, and give us a certificate of approval for both the facility and for each order that goes out.

“We think the new system will be much simpler when we get used to it, and will be less complex because there will be only one or two inspections every year. But it will require us to do a whole bunch of modifications to the factory to bring it up to the AQIS standard.”

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