Food & Beverages | Voluntary Qualified Importer Program
As part of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), Congress commissioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to implement a program whereby qualified food importers receive expedited review and release of food shipments. The Voluntary Qualified Importer Program (VQIP) operates similarly to the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT), which relies on the cooperation of major stakeholders in the international supply chain. Those food importers who “achieve and maintain a high level of control over the safety and security of their supply chains,” who provide FDA with additional assurances that they have an appropriate program for ensuring the importation of safe food, and can verify recent history of compliance are candidates for the expedited review and release program.
***NOTE: Congress, through FSMA, required that one criteria for VQIP participation is that the imported food must come from a foreign facility that has been inspected under FDA’s (non-existent) third party certification system. So VQIP is currently on hold until FDA sets up its Third Party Certification process.
Who Can Participate?
A firm may qualify as a VQIP “importer” even if it is not the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) importer or HACCP importer. For the sake of VQIP a manufacturer, owner, consignee, or importer of record can participate as long as they meet the criteria.
What Criteria Make a Firm Eligible?
To qualify for the program, a firm 1) must have a minimum of three-year history of importing food into the United States. 2) possess a DUNS number, and 3) use FDA-acceptable paperless filers/brokers. 4) None of the firm’s imported food may be subject to Detention Without Physical Examination or on an Import Alert or a Class I Recall at the time the VQIP application is submitted. 5) Neither the firm nor any of the non-compliant entities associated with the VQIP food are subject to an ongoing FDA administrative or judicial action or have a history of significant food safety non-compliance. 6) If a firm is a FSVP or HACCP importer for a VQIP food, it must be compliant under FSVP or HACCP regulations. However, if the firm is not the FSVP or HACCP importer, it must ensure that the FSVP or HACCP importer is compliant. 7) Each foreign supplier of VQIP food must have a current facility certification in accordance with FDA’s third-party certification program, and 8) the qualifying firm must develop, implement, and submit a written VQIP Quality Assurance Program (QAP). 9) Finally, the firm must have no Customs and Border Protection (CBP) actions against it for three years and 10) pay the VQIP yearly user fee.
What are the Benefits to Participation?
Participating firms enjoy 1) expedited entry of all foods included in the VQIP application. 2) FDA will limit the examination and sampling of VQIP foods to “for cause” situations. 3) If examination or sampling is necessary, FDA will attempt to do the testing or sampling at a VQIP destination or at a location preferred by the importer. If FDA deems exportation necessary, the agency will assist in having the goods shipped from a port preferred by the VQIP importer. 4) FDA will expedite lab analysis of “for cause” or audit samples. 5) VQIP importers will have access to the VQIP help desk maintained by FDA where they can have questions answered and issues addressed. 6) At their discretion, a participating company can have their name posted on a publically available list of approved VQIP importers.
Where is the FDA in the Process?
FDA is hoping to accept the first applications on January 1, 2018, and the members can begin enjoying the benefits on October 1, 2018. This is an aggressive goal for FDA which took over 4 years to create the framework for the program. Moreover, the program requires that the foreign food come from a facility that has been inspected under the third party certification system meaning any delays in implementing that rule will affect VQIP, and if no certified individuals come forward, it is impossible to implement VQIP.
For Whom was VQIP Created?
In creating this program, FDA has in mind larger, established importers who have highly valuable and/or perishable foods. Producers of fresh seafood and produce are best fit for the program. FDAImports.com, LLC has a staff of attorneys and regulatory specialists with over a century of combined experience with the FDA. We can help you understand your options and optimize the available services to meet your import needs.