There has been a steady increase in the import of food products into Malaysia over the last few decades. From 1987 to 2015, over a twenty-eight (28) year period, Malaysia's dependency on imports for agricultural commodities increased to 13.7% from 7.3%.1 In 2020 alone the import value of food products to Malaysia was valued at approximately RM55.48 billion, which is an increase from the previous year.2
In May 2022, the Government of Malaysia announced that approved permits were no longer required by Malaysians to import food products into the country.3 This measure was introduced as a measure to ensure the continuous supply of food into the country amid the rising global issue of food security caused by global inflation, the COVID-19 pandemic, labour shortages, weather conditions and the war in Ukraine.4 In turn, this new measure has simplified the current legal requirements to import food products into the country, and further assists in preventing any form of disruption in the food supply chain in the country.
However, importers are still required to ensure adherence of the imported food product in line with the Malaysian Food Act 1983 ("Food Act"). Section 29 of the Food Act provides that the importation of any food which does not comply with the provisions of the Food Act or any regulation made thereunder is prohibited.5 Importers must also ensure strict adherence to the Malaysian Food Regulations 1985 ("Food Regulations") in respect of the type of food to be imported.
The Food Safety and Quality Division ("FSQD") of the Ministry of Health Malaysia has prepared a matrix which outlines the import requirements for specific food products to assist importers, which can be accessed on the Ministry of Health Malaysia ("MOH") website.6 Failure of the importers to comply with regulation governing the importation of manufactured food product shall render the possibility of the importers' licence to be cancelled7.
Any form of failure on the part of the importers of food products to comply with the Food Act for the importation of manufactured food products could result in a fine or imprisonment or both.8 Any person who commits an offence against the Food Regulations for which no penalty is provided by the Food Act shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding ten thousand ringgit or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.9 Although approved permits are no longer required by Malaysians, depending on the type of food products being imported, import permits may be required. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry ("MAFI") has clarified that the importers of food products are still required to have import permits for biosecurity control purposes to ensure that the imported food products are free of diseases and pests, and acquired from government recognized plants.10
Importers must also register themselves with the Food Safety Information System of Malaysia ("FOSIM")11 before importing food products into the country. FOSIM is an integrated enterprise web system that handles the entire supply chain of the food industry which includes export, import, certification, licensing, sampling, inspection and training, and in essence serves as a database for importers of food products.12 FOSIM interfaces with the Customs Information System, allowing importers, forwarding agents and authorised officers to manage food importation activities over the internet.
Upon arriving at the Malaysian border, the imported food products will first be inspected by MOH officers or Malaysian Quarantine and Inspection Services ("MAQIS") officers through a risk-based approach assisted by FOSIM, depending on the type of food product and the body regulating their import and export. Upon the matching of their documents and/or permits with the imported food products, and assuming that there are no further issues with the imported food products, the inspection by the MOH or MAQIS officers is concluded.
One further round of inspection will then be conducted by the Royal Malaysian Customs Department ("Customs"), which is typically done on a random basis rather than on each and every imported food product. The reason behind this second round of inspection is to ensure that the consignments are in compliance with local import legislations and regulations.13
Customs is generally more lenient in terms of inspection of food, especially fresh food with short shelf-lives, once the imported food products arrive at the Malaysian border to prevent food wastage. Finally, once the consignment of food products has been inspected by Customs with no further issues, the Importer must proceed to pay the import tax and/or duties (if any) to release the consignment of food products.14
The flow chart above (Chart 1) prepared by MOH15 outlines in detail the importation process for foods under the control of the Food Act and the Food Regulations.
In conclusion, the removal of the approved permit requirement by the Government of Malaysia as a method to ensure continuous food supply amid growing global concerns of food security is certainly a method that benefits local importers of food products. Importers of food products into Malaysia should ensure strict adherence to the Food Act and the Food Regulations to prevent being penalised.
5. Section 29 of the Food Act 1983, incorporating latest amendment - Act A1266/2006.
6. Ministry of Health Malaysia Matrix for Importation of Foods under the control of MOH, accessible at: http://fsq.moh.gov.my/v6/xs/page.php?id=441000100.
7. Section 18 of the Food Act 1983, incorporating latest amendment - Act A1266/2006.
8. Sections 13, 13A, 13B, 15, 16, and 17 of the Food Act 1983, incorporating latest amendment – Act A1266/2006.
9. Regulation 397 of the Food Regulations 1985, incorporating latest amendment - P.U. (A) 208/2020.
12. https://www.mimos.my/wp content/uploads/2019/11/Fact_Sheet_FoSIM_001-0930A.pdf.
15. Ministry of Health Malaysia Flow Chart of Importation of Food, accessible at: http://fsq.moh.gov.my/v6/xs/page.php?id=441000100.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.