THE Shipping and Forwarding Agents' Association of Zimbabwe has engaged the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare over new regulations on imports and exports of food and related material, an official has said.
The regulations affect companies or individuals intending to import foodstuffs such as food raw materials, meat, alcohol, juices, bottled water and fizzy drinks.
Last year food imports coming into the country were delayed at Plumtree Border Post with Port Health officials arguing that the importers had failed to invite them to a pre-shipment inspection.
The cargo only started moving after the ministry gave in to the importers following a public outcry.
SFAAZ chief executive Mr Joseph Musariri said under the new system importers/exporters are requested to apply for pre-shipment inspections of the products in various countries of origin or manufacture.
He said the same (importers) are also compelled to make the application through the Secretary for Health and also to pay for transport, accommodation and allowances for two ministry inspectors who would conduct the pre-shipment inspection.
Mr Musariri said they were now under pressure from their members and other individuals who were finding the process cumbersome.
He said after such the process importers are issued with a pre-shipment inspection certificate by the permanent secretary.
He added that under the pre-shipment inspection programme, the two inspectors will, among other things, look into premises, manufacturing processes, physical inspection of foodstuffs, storage facilities, packaging and observe expiry dates and batch numbers.
He said inspectors would also collect two sets for testing and one for the inspector in case results are uncertain.
The Ministry of Health dispatched a circular to various clearing agents last year, which read: "Please be advised that all imported/exported food products should undergo pre-shipment inspection at the country they were produced/manufactured with immediate effect.
"This helps in monitoring the biological and chemical quality of food and the process should be done so that our country is not turned into a dumping ground and that we do not export substandard food."
Mr Musariri said the members were worried about a provision where the interested importer or exporter of food items has to pay transport, allowances to two Government inspectors and that travelling should be strictly be by air unless agreed otherwise.
He said they were not worried about the provisions of the law adding that the Government should come up with an unattainable arrangement, where inspectors of such products (food) are certified in various countries by Government.
"This system is not water tight as it is subject to corruption where an importer has to sponsor a trip for two Government officials, chances are high that they might bribe them to suit their needs.
"Basically, the industry is not worried about the provisions of the law except the implementation process.
"As SFAAZ we are going to conduct a workshop involving clearing agents, Ministry of Health officials and the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority over the issue.
"We need to find common ground and come up with solutions to the implementation of the inspection processes," said Mr Musariri.