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FSSAI: New spoke in Wine Importers’ Wheel

Posted: Friday, 30 September 2011 17:54

FSSAI: New spoke in Wine Importers’ Wheel

Sep 30 : While most wine importers are blissfully unaware of FSSAI and the nightmares it is about to bring to their life, a recent policy of strict adherence of an earlier notice by this government body, Food Safety & Standards Authority of India, dated 25 February, 2011 requiring testing of samples of every label of imported wine before the shipment is released by the Customs is going to further add to the costs and regulatory stifling process, writes Subhash Arora who fully appreciates and supports the need for the sample checks but strongly hopes that it takes a pragmatic approach.

The FSSAI Notice of 25 February, 2011 demanded a strict compliance as per food and safety and standards authority directives dated 2 December 2010. This included imported package foodstuff, specified various requirements that included importer’s name, weight of the product, month of manufacture, declaration of Best Before date of month on the package, nutritional information  and declaration of whether it is ‘vegetarian’ or ‘non-vegetarian’ had been made mandatory.

With immediate effect, all such items which fall in Chapter 22 (wine which falls under chapter 2204 is also under this notice) will require for any imports, a required lab test before Custom allows to clear the goods from the Port. This is applicable in all ports within India, whether it is for home consumption or meant for Re-Export. Chapter 2204 - 2208, which includes all form of alcohol, wines, beers, port & sherries & hard spirits are all under the purview of the FSSAI henceforth.

‘The implementation has been put in force almost 10 days back,’ says Debjit Dasgupta, Secretary of the Delhi Foreign Liquor Association, formed last year. A couple of importers whose shipments landed at the port during this week in Delhi have been running from pillar to post, trying to get the material released at least for the current shipments.

Unless the procedure is streamlined, it spells trouble for importers and the final consumer alike. Not only does the cost go up marginally- every sample-even if it is a case of wine, must be sampled and Rs.3000 deposited; the procedure may take 7-10 days before the sample is released and if the department gets greedy, it might mean further addition to the speed-money costs. Every sample means 2 bottles of the consignment. This might be ok for the plonk being imported for the diplomats wearing boots on their leggs but quality wines are expensive. Surprisingly, the customs duty has to be paid first on the two bottles that would be supposedly thrown into the sink by the testing authority!!

Debjit agrees that the procedure ought to be streamlined. ‘The authorities must understand that when it comes to wine, a container might end up lying at the Port for more than 10 days to get the lab report. This will deteriorate the quality of the wines, because of temperature and poor storage. Secondly, on a mid to high- end wines, where importers only brings in a few bottles, the viability factor of giving 2 bottles minimum as samples on which the importer also has to pay custom duty, remains a big question mark’ He further adds, ‘mostly, these kind of wines are for duty free outlets & still if hotels insists for those brands, the importer would be obliged to add these expenses to his cost of the product & the consumer will have to shell out more money.

There seems to be a ray of hope though, as FSSAI seems to be very co-operative and understanding. But they seem to have their hands tied as they normally deal with water, fruits and several products where it is not critical and that expensive to take the samples. ‘We have discussed this matter with the concerned authority in FSSAI & they were very cooperative & have given us a positive hearing. They want us to make a proper representation in this matter placing all facts before them, so that they can discuss the issue internally come up with a policy which will help the importers to still continue with premium quality wines with less hassles.’

No body can deny that the proper inward inspection is necessary even for wines. One is reminded of the fairly recent case of the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) refusing to release the shipments of Brunello di Montalcino as it felt that the grapes were not as per the regulations. Recent bans in import of dairy products from China or nuclear affected food products from Japan are all examples of a body like FSSAI controlling the quality of food products through sampling. What is important to know how pragmatic they are. Perhaps, they should ask for the reports from recognized foreign labs  and accept them if they are made out in English and conduct random checks. If the report is found to be incorrect, they could blacklist the producer or the importer for a few months. What is also important is that the importers need to come together under the common umbrella and try to find a practical solution which should be in the interest of the consumer.

Subhash Arora

FSSAI Notice




Chapter 22




Chris Pohl Says:


Dear Subash, I think there is another lesson we can learn from chosen home country South Africa. We have started exporting wine to South Africa now too and what an importer can and must do is to get a permit to import samples - DUTY FREE, copy of the same are with me. We are now send 180 liters of wine in 750ml bottles = 30 cases there. The only cost is goods and transport for us and clearing charges for the importer but no other duties. Thereafter two bottles of each variety will be tested and certification issued. The importer must also have an import permit allowing him to import wine. So a country on the dark continent - 5th or 6th biggest producer of wine has importer friendly rules, low cost to get the wines approved and thus allowing the consumer to have a wide variety of superb South African Wine and any other wine from across the globe. There is nothing wrong with inspections - they are all good for us but heck to have to pay duty on samples for testing is just par for the course!!! For us it is just one more of those issues that take the fun out of business, batter the consumer with ever increasing prices for good wine, and cheap plonk alike and excellent wine will just stop from coming in. Its a nigh-mare and minefield out there and who is the one that suffers most is the consumer!!! Regards Chris

Posted @ October 05, 2011 12:10


Rajeev Samant Says:


Subhash - it needs to be noted here that the EU has exactly the same rules. In fact Indian wine exporters have been facing horrendous hardships with consignments to the EU, notably to Germany. Each wine has to be tested, adding an almost unviable cost for each consignment. In this case whatever is being proposed is merely a reciprocal arrangement it looks like. Much better that the EU and India negotiate these rules away for wines being shipped in both directions!

Posted @ October 05, 2011 11:17


Nish D Kotecha Says:

Dear Subhash

I trust you are keeping well.  Firstly I would like to thank you for the excellent job you are doing in keeping us informed about the market in India, even though we have currently stopped trying to enter the market due, legislation, duties, levies, and complexities of supply.Reading your article on the new regulations on sampling just highlighted further why we have taken a step back from trying to enter the market.  As you know we have been in the wine business for over 20years in the UK and there are very strict controls in quality here too.  However it is far more streamlined with the acceptance of the a certificate of analysis from country of origin, though it would have to be from government approved independent labs in that country.  I hope FSSAI will sort out these issues for the good wine in India! Look forward to seeing you at a tasting soon! Kind regards NISH KOTECHA 

Posted @ October 04, 2011 10:50


Adrienna Zsakay Says:

Dear Mr. Subhash Arora, You recently posted a notice on your website titled "New spoke in Wine Importer's Wheel" ( ) and at the bottom you have Chapter 22 as a reference. This document provides details of the HS Code, Item Description, Policy and Policy Conditions. It would be easy to interpret the document as the HS Codes and Tariff Rates - all which provide a status of free. Can you please provide details of how you came across this document? I am attaching my own version of Chapter 22 and as you can see, there are significant differences between your Chapter 22 and my Chapter 22. Just thought I'd let you know on case you made a mistake. If you don't mind I have provided a summary of your article to my newsletter and a link to your website. Yours sincerely Adrienna Zsakay

Posted @ October 04, 2011 10:10


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