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Thursday December 14, 2006

Malaysia to get tough on safety of imported food, agri products


PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia will soon begin enforcing certain health regulations to restrict the import of food and agricultural products into the country. 

This is to reduce the widening deficit in the balance of trade, especially in the agricultural sector, as well as to prevent the dumping of cheap, low quality food on the local market. 

However, Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin allayed fears that Malaysia would impose tariffs on food imports. 

“We can’t do that because we are a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as well as Asean Free Trade Area (AFTA). 

“Health regulations, which call for food products imported into the country to adhere to standards in sanitation, food safety, quality, packaging and labelling, quarantine and expiry date, already exist under the Food Act. 

“But for some reason, these were not enforced strictly. Maybe this was due to Malaysians not taking seriously concerns over food safety and quality. Beginning next year, we will start enforcing these rules with cooperation from the Health Ministry. 

“We will give adequate notice to all food importers when this happens,” he told reporters after handing over the ministry’s annual report to departmental heads here Thursday. 

Muhyiddin said the dumping of these imported food products had also led to competition with local farmers. 

“Many developed countries already have very stringent regulations regarding food imports. For instance, Malaysia had to negotiate with Australia for eight years before it could export its food products there, due to prevailing high standards of hygiene. 

“Similarly, whenever one wants to export food stuff to Japan, the government there imposes very stringent food quality rules to protect consumers. It’s time Malaysia does the same,” he said. 

Muhyiddin said he was also concerned to find Malaysia’s deficit for its balance of trade widening despite its plan of having RM1bil in surplus for agricultural products by the year 2010, and by the import of food readily available in the country. 

“During a recent brainstorming session, we found that the trend is actually increasing, up to RM7.8bil in deficit last year. For the first eight months of this year, the figure is around RM5.6bil,” he said.

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