Only a few months remain before the August 3, 2016 deadline for Korean registration of foreign food and food packaging manufacturing facilities. Registration is required for all facilities producing food, food additives, food packaging as well as components thereof, including functional health foods, and livestock products that are marketed or sold in Korea. The legislative history relating to the new registration system, the data requested from registrants, and the potential penalties for non-compliance are discussed in turn below.

Legal Background

Korea's Special Act on Imported Food Safety Management1 was finalized last February and took effect on February 4, 2016. Notably, Article 5 of the Special Act requires that the Korean authorities impose a registration requirement on foreign food and food packaging manufacturers around the world that market their products within Korea.2 The Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS), formerly known as "KFDA," has been tasked with overseeing these registrations. The law further authorizes the Ministry to conduct on-site inspections of foreign facilities. Where the government in an exporting country or a foreign food facility refuses an on-site inspection, MFDS may take measures to suspend the importation of imported food, etc. of the foreign food facility concerned.

In this regard, the registration system is intended to provide the necessary information on foreign manufacturers marketing within Korea. Further, the Special Act supplies the legal basis for MFDS to not only oversee the safety of such imported products, but also take corrective action should foreign manufacturers decline audits initiated by the Ministry.

Considering the need to properly implement these mandates, the Special Act did not take effect for 1-year after its publication. Earlier this year, MFDS offered an additional 6-month grace period in the interest of ensuring that industry had a sufficient time to register facilities producing food ingredients, additives, and/or food packaging materials that may be offered for sale in Korea. The Ministry has now indicated that registration of relevant foreign food and food packaging facilities must be completed no later than August 3, 2016.

Again, the MFDS registration requirement applies not only to producers of food and food additives but also food packaging materials. In this regard, the online registration platform only references "apparatus, container, package."3 Although this language suggests that companies selling finished articles into Korea would be responsible for registering, we understand that MFDS takes the position that the registration requirement applies to producers of starting materials as well as finished articles.Thus, even companies manufacturing plastic resins and other starting substances used in the production of food packaging will be required to register their facilities with MFDS by this August.

Registration Impact, On-Site Inspections and Potential Penalties

As noted above, the deadline for registration of facilities selling product into Korea is August 3, 2016. For facilities not yet in operation (or which have yet to supply product to Korea), the companies must complete their facility registration no less than seven days prior to filing an import declaration for the relevant products. MFDS retains the right to reject the import declarations filed by importers, etc. that have failed to register in accordance with Article 5. Accordingly, companies that fail to properly register their foreign facilities may risk having their product/s held at port and not permitted entry into Korea.

The registration remains effective for two years unless MFDS determines that such registration should be revoked.4 Generally speaking, this relates to a scenario wherein the Ministry identifies a hazard resulting from the facility in question, or that the registration was secured via fraud. Should MFDS determine that a registration should be revoked, that facility will not be permitted to register again for a period of three years.5 Given that the lack of a registration can limit the ability to secure port clearance for imported product, this presents a significant risk to companies doing business in Korea.

Companies that register are subject to on-site inspections.6 As noted above,MFDS may take measures to suspend the importation of imported food, etc. of a foreign food facility if the foreign food facility (or government in the exporting country) refuses an on-site inspection.

Online Platform and Information Required

The MFDS online registration platform is available in both English7 and Korean.8 In this regard, companies located abroad should have no problem accessing the platform from overseas. In addition, no registration fee is required.

The application for registration requires that companies provide the following information:

  • Company name
  • Location and contact information (address, tel. no., fax. no., email address)
  • Facility name
  • Facility owner/operator in charge
  • Facility location and contact information (address, tel. no., fax. no., email address)

All of these fields must be entered on the MFDS platform, although certain information may be the same depending upon the corporate structure.

Companies with more than one factory must input information on all production facilities that require registration. We note, however, that the online platform does not permit registrants to cover multiple factories within a single registration. Thus, companies must register each additional facility separately with the same applicant information.

The final section of the registration portal allows companies to upload documents relating to their products. MFDS has indicated that companies should include certification documents relating to the relevant facility. For example, companies may upload hazards analysis and critical control points (HACCP) Certifications or ISO Certificates relating to each facility. Other certifications also can be uploaded as appropriate.