Since the early 1990s, world consumption of olive oil has increased from one million metric tons to three million metric tons per year. The vast majority of olive oil, up to 98 percent, consumed in the United States is imported from other countries. Small business owners who are considering entering the olive oil import industry should begin by learning about the rules, regulations and laws impacting the import of food.
Check the U.S. Customs and Border Protection regulations and Food and Drug Administration rules and guidance documents before attempting to import olive oil into the United States.
Should Olive Oil Importers Use Customs Brokers?
Business owners seeking to import olive oil into the U.S should first familiarize themselves with the rules, requirements and processes set by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The importer is responsible for making sure all products that are offered for import comply with U.S. requirements.
To import olive oil into the U.S., the importer can use a customs broker who is authorized by United States tariff laws to act as an agent for the importer for the transactions. Customs brokers are trained and licensed by CBP to facilitate imports while ensuring compliance with U.S. laws. Customs brokers complete and file customs entries, arrange for the payment of duties, arrange the release of the goods and represent the importer in customs matters. When an entry is made with CBP, importers or their customs brokers include the Harmonized Tariff Schedule code for the applicable tariff rate.
CBP’s website has a clickable U.S. map that provides specific ports, along with a list of customs brokers under each port.
The FDA's Role in Olive Oil Importation
Prospective importers should familiarize themselves with the U.S. Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA). Importers of food products into the U.S. are responsible to ensure that the products are safe, sanitary and correctly labeled according to federal requirements.
The FDA is tasked with protecting public health. Products regulated by the FDA are subject to review when offered for entry into the U.S. All products regulated by the FDA must meet the same requirements, whether imported from abroad or produced domestically.
Food products that are being imported into the U.S. may be inspected and the FDA may detain shipments that are found to be non-compliant with U.S. requirements. In addition to meeting the requirements of U.S. food regulations, such as food facility registration with the FDA, importers must comply with U.S. import procedures and Prior Notice requirements.
What is Prior Notice?
The FDCA requires prior notification of food that is imported into the United States. Such advance notice of food shipments allows the FDA and the CDP to protect the nation’s food supply.
The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 (FSMA) aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by preventing contamination. Pursuant to the FSMA, the FDA published a final rule that requires importers to perform certain risk-based functions to verify that food has been produced according to applicable U.S. safety standards.
The regulation creates standard requirements for larger importers. The regulation also creates a modified set of procedures for “very small importers” and another set of modified procedures that apply when importing from certain small foreign suppliers. Importers are required to ensure that suppliers use processes and procedures that meet or exceed the level of public health protection provided under the produce safety standards set by the FDA. Importers must also ensure that the suppliers’ food is not adulterated and that allergen labels are accurate and comply with the requirements of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act.
The FDA runs a Voluntary Qualified Importer Program (VQIP), which is a fee-based program that offers expedited review and entry of human and animal food into the United States. Importers are required to meet the eligibility requirements of the program, which has many benefits. Importers who participate in this voluntary program will be able to import their products to the U.S. faster and with greater predictability, avoiding unexpected delays.