Vietnam's General Department of Customs (GDC) has responded to a request from Japan’s Meiji Dairy Corporation relating to its powdered milk products sold in Vietnam.
In an official document sent to VET on June 16, GDC said it fully supports intellectual property rights (IPR) protection for the Meiji milk brand in Vietnam but did not specifically state whether it agrees with Meiji’s requests that no more permits be issued or customs clearance made on unauthorized Meiji milk products in Vietnam.
“Meiji’s request for IPR in Vietnam market is legal,” the GDC document stated. “The company should refer to Articles 73 to 76 of Vietnam’s Customs Law for this request.”
In April Meiji asked GDC and other authorities to revoke permits issued to unauthorized distributors of its products in Vietnam in an attempt to protect its powdered milk products.
Meiji is yet to have an exclusive distributor in Vietnam, with its products available in the country being for the domestic Japanese market but unofficially exported by Japanese traders. There are also a large number of Meiji products in Vietnam being brought in by hand (in luggage, for example).
Meiji said it wants to control product quality and plans to appoint an exclusive distributor in Hanoi, authorized to import and sell all their product lines to Vietnam’s 90 million people, which grows by more than 1 million a year.
Regarding Meiji’s petition, GDC said there was no information on quality and the nutritional difference between Vietnamese and Japanese standards or on counterfeit products being available in Vietnam.
The Japanese company has acknowledged that the content of its powdered milk produced for the Japanese market and sold in Japan do not meet Vietnamese standards.
Specifically, the components of biotin, choline, manganese, and iodine in its formula powder milk No. 0 branded Hohoemi (for infants under 12 months) and components of biotin, zinc, iodine in formula powder milk No. 9 branded Step (for one to three-year-old children) meet Japanese standard but not Vietnamese standards.
“This is due to the differences in standards for nutritional components and the demand for different substances between the Vietnamese and Japanese people,” Meiji explained.
VET also spoke with some Vietnamese importers selling Meiji’s products, who said that if permits were revoked or not issued they would simply switch to other milk products.
Warnings over Japanese domestic milk, with lower iodine content than Vietnamese children’s needs, have been issued many times, but Meiji’s milk is still preferred in Vietnam. The Japanese Government does not permit a higher iodine content in formula powdered milk for infants.
“Vietnamese children mostly no longer lack iodine anymore, and it would be no problem if meals for infants after weaning were only supplemented with fish or other foods including iodine,” a representative from one company importing Japanese powdered milk told VET.
Another company specializing in goods imported from Japan suggested that the proposal from Meiji would threaten legal importation by other companies and facilitate its appointed company to be the exclusive distributor.
There are already some Japanese milk brands officially imported into Vietnam under exclusive distribution deals, such as Glico from the Ezaki Glico Group and Morinaga by Morinaga & Co., Ltd.