May 25, 2018
The Voluntary Qualified Importer Program (VQIP) is a voluntary fee-based program that provides expedited review and import entry of human and animal foods into the United States for participating importers. To participate, importers are required to meet certain eligibility requirements, which include ensuring that the facilities of their foreign supplier are certified under the Accredited Third-Party Certification Program.
While the VQIP application portal opened in January, FDA does not anticipate that importers will be able to apply during this application cycle while certification bodies (also known as third-party auditors) receive their accreditation under the Accredited Third Party Certification Program. Thus far, the agency has recognized two accreditation bodies, ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which will be assessing and accrediting certification bodies. This process takes some time, and so currently no certification bodies have been accredited through this program.
Certification bodies will conduct food safety audits of foreign facilities and issue the certifications that importers need to participate in VQIP. Because no such certification bodies have yet been accredited to date, FDA does not expect importers to be able to apply to participate in VQIP for the FY19 benefit year. The VQIP application portal is open annually from January 1 through May 31 for the following benefit year. Due to the time needed to accredit certification bodies, we will consider early opening for the FY20 application portal later this calendar year once certification bodies have been accredited under FDA’s Accredited Third Party Certification Program. This would allow importers to submit their completed applications early for the FY20 benefit year.
As we look to next year’s application cycle, FDA is continuing its efforts to ensure that the application process for VQIP is as efficient as possible. If you are an importer interested in participating, there are some things that we would encourage you to do now to prepare for next year’s application period including:
- Submitting a notice of intent to participate: This will help us gauge necessary resources to continue to provide the best level of service in the future. Interested participants can submit a notice of intent by setting up an account via the FDA Industry Systems website. Once you have an account, selecting VQIP under the FSMA Program options will take you to the VQIP Application Page with an option for submitting a Notice of Intent to Participate.
- Begin working on the application: Although importers will not be able to submit their applications now, they can begin the application process to prepare for next year and provide us feedback on the process that will help increase efficiency in next year’s application cycle. To assist with the application, we have created a Step-by-Step guide that we encourage importers to review if they are interested in applying during next year’s cycle.
- Review the Public Registry of Recognized Accreditation Bodies to find links to Certification Bodies: The Accreditation Bodies will be updating their websites with a list of available certification bodies as they become available. Once certification bodies are available, importers can begin the process of working with them to obtain certifications for the facilities from which they are importing. Having these certifications ready before January will give importers a head start in the application process.
Importers interested in learning more about VQIP can find more information on the VQIP webpage. Further, any questions can be directed to the VQIP Importer’s Help Desk via phone at 1-301-796-8745 or email at FSMAVQIP@fda.hhs.gov.
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