|Food exports to US must adhere to American regulations
|It has been more than 30 months since the signing of the Jordan-US free trade agreement in Washington, DC, in October 2000. Although it was put into practice in December 2001, the agreement still lacks the real manifestation among Jordanian exporters and businessmen.
It was supposed to activate the Jordanian export market to the US, however, up till now many Jordanian companies are unaware of how to approach the American market.
The problem lies in the fact that Jordanian merchants and exporters do not have sufficient information about the US market and its potentials. This is either due to the government’s inefficient efforts to enlighten the business community over the issue or the reluctance from within the private sector to take the initiative and associate itself with its American counterpart.
Many businessmen notice the strict regulations and rules that govern the export market into the US, which are conducted mainly through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the Animal, Plant, Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the US Department of Agriculture.
Last week’s symposium over the "Requirements for the Jordanian Food Sector in the US Market" was a chance for local manufacturers and businessmen to introduce themselves to the Americans in a way that helped in bridging the awareness gap between the two parties.
The one-day seminar, which was organized by the Jordanian Exporters Association at the Sheraton Amman Hotel, aimed at giving Jordanian companies interested in the US markets some approach guidance. Targeted companies were those that are specialized in manufacturing food, beverages, meat and poultry products.
Dr Patrick Wilson, associate director of the FDA, urged food producers and manufacturers in Jordan to meet the FDA standards that require proper and clear labeling of food products ingredients. He stressed the significance of adherence to regulations regarding labeling products to inform consumers in the US of the constituents of each product and its healthy content as to "make foreign exports to the US safe for human consumption."
Yet, many Jordanian manufacturers complain that the government and other trade institutions did not provide the preferences or the required mechanisms to make sure of a transparent access of products to the American markets.
Husam Al Farahid, general manager of the UNIFARM Co. in Jordan, has been importing from the US since 1995. His company trades in 300 tons of frozen poultry from the US each year worth more than $400,000.
"I tried to export my manufacturing of poultry to the US last year but failed because I lacked the required reference to support me," Al Farahid told The Star. "I blame the government and the concerned private institutions that fell short on introducing the FTA with the US as it should be."
Halim Abu Rahmah, the JEA president, urged Jordanian manufacturers to enhance their chances in trading with the US under the FTA by better understanding the export regulations of the American authorities.
Wilson offered to assist Jordanian companies through the American Embassy in Amman or through the Jordanian Embassy in Washington, DC. "Contacts with both embassies are vital for Jordanian exporters to know how and what to do to export products to the US," he added.
The second important step is to have a broker or agent that would help exporters follow up on their deals. Wilson explained that two procedures may hamper Jordanian products from reaching American consumers. "Many exporters may forget to file a special form or application to the FDA telling them about their shipment."
"Exporters should declare to the FDA immediately during the processing of form, as to where the manufacturing process and the proper labeling of products are taking place," he continued.
Rassem Abderrahim, a Jordanian international trade expert, prepared a study on exporting the so-called "ethnic food" to the US. "The US market is difficult to develop in an overnight plan so exporters should not waste their time with a food importer whose principle is not to appreciate but certain national food products," he said, adding that participating in international food festivals in the US and Europe can help in promoting Jordanian products.
Abderrahim’s remarks contradicted those of Peter Sidman, the CEO of CBEX Global—a US Sales and Marketing Company—who said, "Branding, packaging and labeling affect the categorization of food products. This is why a branded olive oil bottle in one store is sold as specialty food, while in another it is sold as Italian or Greek ethnic food."
Abderrahim urged local producers to classify their exports properly. "Do not classify your food product as ‘ethnic’, ‘Middle Eastern’, or ‘Mediterranean’ but as a Jordanian-made product," he pointed out. "This would simplify the process of marketing Jordanian products better into the US markets."
Sidman warned that the American consumers are hard to satisfy and that the best way to approach the market is by having qualified distributors. "Marketing food products from the Middle East requires proper documentation and good quality of products that satisfy consumer’s demands," he said.
Wilson made it clear that Jordanian-made vegetable products must go through the FDA inspection teams because there is a certain level of ‘tolerance’ set by the EPA (Environment Protection Administration) regarding pesticides. If the EPA, for example, finds that pesticides used do not meet the US standards, the product will surely be detained or destroyed at once.
The FSIS experts Sally Stratmoen and Todd Furey said any country can apply for eligibility to export to the US. They stressed that foreign food regulatory bodies should employ equivalent sanitary measures that provide same levels of protection against food safety hazards. "If Jordanian exporters want to evaluate their products, they have to contact the FSIS which will mail a standard package that contains questionnaires about the food regulatory system plus copies of pertinent US laws," Furey said.
Dr Christopher Robinson stressed that the role of APHIS is to protect American markets from being contaminated by "animal diseases" like the foot-and-mouth and the African swine disease. "Jordanian meat and poultry exports should adhere strictly to FSIS and APHIS standards. If any meat or poultry product is found to contain such diseases it will be detained and eventually destroyed," he said.
Ghassan Joha and Mike Derderian