The Ministry of Economic Affairs’ Industrial Development Bureau in 2015 abolished the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) food certification system while Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was president.
The move created a crisis, as it hindered Taiwan-made food from entering the international market. The problem has only worsened.
Unless the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) quickly addresses the issue, it will continue to hurt the food industry and the government’s credibility, not to mention the harm it does to the national interest.
The Ma administration abolished GMP because the Taiwan Food GMP Development Association was headed by Wei Ying-chun (魏應充), an executive at Ting Hsin International Group, which was involved in a major cooking oil scandal.
The government replaced GMP with the Taiwan Quality Food certification, which was developed by the private sector.
However, the new scheme was not mandatory and had no international credibility.
To quickly get back on track with the international community, a number of Taiwanese food manufacturers turned to ISO and HACCP certification, but GMP is still the international benchmark.
The FDA has built a mechanism to issue free sale certificates to manufacturers and products, but the information they bear is simplistic compared with other countries and the online registration format is too rigid.
For example, a US free sale certificate details a product’s examination results and place of origin, while a Taiwanese one does not. As a result, Taiwanese food manufacturers are often required by food authorities overseas to submit additional examination documents to prove the efficacy of their certification. Some are even required to submit GMP certificates, which are no longer available in Taiwan. Under such circumstances, law-abiding companies are unable to proceed.
For many years, Taiwan was internationally known for its strict management of food and drugs, and it was easy for ASEAN members to issue import permits for Taiwanese GMP-certified food products, including health foods, or drug licenses.
Generally, GMP certification is valid for five years. Its absence means that it is difficult to extend or renew import permits and drug licenses. So Taiwanese products that were certified in 2015 are facing difficulties this year as they seek new permits or licenses in ASEAN members.
In negotiations with Indonesian authorities, the Taipei Economic and Trade Office in Indonesia helped Taiwanese cosmetics factories renew licenses using ISO and HACCP certifications, but it is a temporary accommodation for a single sector. The question is whether representative offices elsewhere in ASEAN will succeed at similar negotiations with each country over food, drugs and cosmetics in a timely manner.
FDA Director-General Wu Shou-mei (吳秀梅) has said that the agency is assessing the possibility of rebuilding a GMP system for health food products.
However, the process is time-consuming and most business operators remain worried.
Hopefully the FDA will promptly develop a strategy to save the Taiwanese food and biotechnology sectors’ international business opportunities.
Jesse Liau is president of a Taiwanese biotechnology company.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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