Hong Kong’s non-tariff barriers related to labeling requirements, standards, and other requirements are generally minimal, but will become more restrictive for foods, beverages, and supplements.
Currently, pre-packaged foods in Hong Kong need to be legibly marked or labeled in either the English or Chinese language, or in both languages. The label/marking needs to include the full company name and address or details of the registered or principal office of the manufacturer or packer. It also must have the food’s name or designation, list of ingredients, including additives and allergens, composition or contents, with the net weight or net volume, and indication of “Best before” or “Use by” date. Statements of special conditions for storage or instructions also need to be legibly marked or labeled. Pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs must have indications of dosage and frequency on the label in both Chinese and English.
New Food Labeling Requirements
Hong Kong’s Legislative Council passed a nutritional labeling regulation on May 28, 2008 that will take effect July 1, 2010. The regulation requires all prepackaged food sold in Hong Kong to label the product’s energy content plus seven nutrients: protein, carbohydrates, fat, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and sugars. Packaged products which make claims such as “low fat” or “high in Vitamin A” must meet additional labeling and definitional requirements as uniquely spelled out in the legislation. Manufacturers and traders may apply for a small volume exemption for individual prepackaged food products with annual sales in Hong Kong of less than 30,000 units, provided that the products do not carry any nutritional claims. Traders applying for the exemption have to pay the equivalent of US$44 per product variety for the first year and US$43 for annual renewal. The new labeling regulation does not follow the labeling practices of major suppliers. Given the small size of Hong Kong’s market, most packaged food manufacturers and local importers find it economically unviable to provide new labels specifically for Hong Kong. This regulation has already begun to adversely impact U.S. exports of processed foods to Hong Kong. In 2009, Hong Kong was the 4th-largest market for U.S. grocery products, with sales of almost US$1.7 billion. Any food supplement or vitamin not assigned a “pharmaceutical number” is considered a food and will be subject to the legislation.
Proposed New Legislation on Food Safety
The Hong Kong Government is considering the introduction of a Food Safety Bill to provide for a comprehensive registration scheme for food importers and distributors. Under the scheme, importers and distributors will be required to maintain proper transaction records of imported food, so that in the event of a food incident, the government can trace the sources and points of sale of the food concerned swiftly and thoroughly. The government expects to submit the Bill to the Legislative Council in June 2010.
After finding the industrial chemical melamine in dairy products that originated in mainland China, the Hong Kong Government in November 2008 submitted to the Legislative Council various amendments to the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance. Under the proposed amendments, when public health is under serious threat, the authorities will be empowered to require all wholesalers and retailers to stop selling and recall the food concerned. The Legislative Council passed the amendments in April 2009.
In parallel with reforming the food safety regulatory regime, the Hong Kong Government is also in the process of drafting a regulation on pesticide residue in foods, which is planned to be introduced to the Legislative Council for discussion in 2010.
Consumer Electrical Appliances Labeling
The Hong Kong Government enacted the Energy Efficiency Labeling Ordinance in May 2008 for consumer electrical appliances. The ordinance’s Mandatory Energy Efficiency Labeling Scheme (MEELS) is intended to assist consumers in choosing energy efficient products. Under the ordinance, the manufacturer/importer's product must be registered with the Hong Kong Electro-Mechanical Services Department and carry an energy label that complies with specified technical requirements. The ordinance's first phase of implementation mandated standardized energy efficiency labeling for three types of products sold in Hong Kong beginning on November 9, 2009: air conditioners, refrigerators and compact fluorescent lamps. A Code of Practice on Energy Labeling of Products has been approved and issued to provide practical guidance and technical details about the requirements under the Ordinance.
The second phase of MEELS will cover two more products: washing machines and dehumidifiers. The Hong Kong government provided the Legislative Council with second phase amendments to the ordinance in January 2010