International trade in agri-food products is a reality which we embrace as a general proposition, as a country with a strong export focus, it is clearly in Ireland's broader economic interests to ensure that there is a stable and balanced international trade environment.
To protect animal and public health and in accordance with international trade agreements, the European Union (EU) has set down the conditions for importation of consignments of products of animal origin from non-EU countries including fish and fish products intended for release into free circulation in the EU. These import requirements are generic and applicable for all countries authorised to export to the EU. The legislation imposes a series of health and supervisory requirements, designed to ensure that imported products meet standards at least equivalent to those required for production in, and trade between Member States.
An annual audit of imported products is carried out in each Department approved meat plant. The audit includes physical identity, labelling and documentary checks. This includes product originating both in EU Member States and third countries. In addition, labelling and documentary checks form part of the routine checks conducted by Department officials.
Products must have originated in an area where there are no restrictions imposed under EU Safeguard measures and come from establishments which are under the supervision and control of the competent authorities. The products must be free from residues and contaminants, correctly labelled and travel with the specific health certificates or other documents conforming to the models laid down in EU legislation drawn up in conformity with the relevant model for the product, completed and signed on behalf of the competent authorities of the country of export. The EU's Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) carries out assessments of third countries wishing to export these products to the EU and submits for Commission approval those where the responsible authorities can provide appropriate guarantees as regards compliance or equivalence with Community feed and food law and animal health rules. Third countries and their establishments that are approved to export are audited and inspected by the FVO with regard to these guarantees and reports of the findings of inspections are published on its website.
Import controls on products of animal origin arriving from third countries must be performed at an EU Border Inspection Post approved for that category of product being presented. Consignments for import requiring veterinary checks must be notified in advance to the Border Inspection Post of import and presented on arrival for checks with all the appropriate documentation. Border Inspection Posts in Ireland are operated by my Department. The import controls procedures on products of animal origin are highly prescriptive and strictly audited by the FVO to ensure compliance. Again, reports of the findings of inspections are published on the FVO's website. In order to import fish or fishery products into Ireland from a non EU country or non European Economic Area Country the general position is that the person who wishes to import fish/fishery products is required to register with the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA). Application forms can be obtained from SFPA. Following registration the importer is assigned a unique registration number and all details are kept on the SFPA register of importers of fish/fishery products.
In summary, the import of products from third countries is governed by a comprehensive and robust legislative framework laid down at EU level, controlled by EU Member States in the first instance, and audited by the European Commission's Food and Veterinary Office, to ensure compliance with all of the relevant food safety standards.