An inspection agency can check goods and shipments on your behalf, or for your foreign customer. It can also check and oversee your production abroad. The Dutch government has made inspection mandatory for some products. For example, animal (verterinary) or plant (phytosanitary) products such as foodstuffs, meat, plants, and fruit.
When you order products from another country, it may be that the shipment you receive does not meet your requirements. For example, you want to import kettles from China. You choose two trendy pastel colours, make a down payment, and transfer the rest of the money when your order is shipped. When you finally open the first boxes upon receipt, you are shocked to see that it is brightly coloured appliances. You now have a container full of products that you did not order and may not be able to use. You are stuck with unsellable stock that you already paid for.
This business risk can be minimised with a pre-shipment inspection (PSI) in the exporting country. For entrepreneur Sander Bisseling, importing does not happen without inspection. You can read about his experiences in the article 'Inspection upon import' (in Dutch).
The opposite is also possible: a foreign customer can have a PSI carried out in your company. Your customer will usually let you know which accredited inspection agency will visit you, and when. The inspector can oversee the loading, or carry out a pre-shipment inspection of the goods. That way your customer can be certain they will get what they ordered.
A quality check is not mandatory. You choose to have it done, and you pay the agency you hire. Often, you pay per hour. How high the fee is depends on the type of inspection you have carried out. And on the technical know-how required. The prices differ per agency.
The inspector who carries out the pre-shipment inspection does a final check of the products before they are loaded and shipped. They will check whether the product meets the defined standard. That means checking technical aspects, quantities, and the way the product looks (the yellow sweater!), requested markings, or for example the packaging materials.
Producer, inspector, and importer use samples and a checklist to check if the products meet the requirements, and to weigh the importance of certain criteria. For example, a scratch on a tv screen is a bigger problem than a scratch on the packaging.
You receive an inspection report after the check. If you pay using a Letter of Credit, have the report added to the trade documents you receive from your foreign supplier.
If the quality of the shipment is not good enough, discuss what happens next with the inspector. Maybe you need new products. You can also opt to have only part of the goods shipped. If the inspection has a positive result, your order will be loaded for transport.
The inspector can also oversee the loading process. Or check the container itself, to see if it meets the requirements of the international safe container agreement (CSC). You decide what you want to have checked. For example, if the products that are loaded are the ones you ordered, have the correct packaging, and are secured correctly in the container.
If the inspection has a positive result, the inspector seals the container. If the seal is broken upon arrival, you know straightaway that something has happened to your shipment en route.
These inspections focus mainly on end products. You can also have a production facility or process inspected.
Inspection of production
When you import goods, or outsource production to a foreign company, you can have the production process or the facility inspected. For example, a check before the production process is started, or before you start doing business with the facility. If the inspection does not meet your wishes or specifications, the inspector can correct this in time.
During production, samples can be taken out of the process for inspection. If there are problems, you can intervene in time. That way you are certain that the process is running smoothly, your product meets your quality standards, and you will be able to meet the arranged delivery time.
These quality inspections are all voluntary. But the government has also made certain checks mandatory. Without a government-approved inspection you are not allowed to import or export these goods.
If you export phytosanitary or veterinary products to the Netherlands, there are several requirements you must meet. The government has drawn up these requirements to protect the health of people and animals in the Netherlands. A Dutch inspection body (in Dutch) will carry out an inspection of your goods before you are allowed to ship it. This inspection body will then issue the required export and inspection certificates. You add these statements and certificates to your export shipment.
There are also EU requirements for intra-EU shipments of plant or animal products, so shipments from one EU country to another. Every EU country may have its own additional regulations. The exporting assistant (in Dutch) of the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority NVWA is a tool that you can use to see which requirements apply to your product.
If you import products of animal origin, you need a health certificate. The appointed inspection body in the country of origin issues this certificate. You cannot draw up this official document yourself. These certificates are required for the import of several products, for example foodstuffs, meat, or fish.
The NVWA carries out a veterinary inspection upon entry into the EU. Among other things, the NVWA checks the accompanying documents, such as the veterinary health certificate. It can also decide to perform a physical product inspection.
For the import of plants, plant-based materials, fruit, and vegetables from outside the EU, you need a phytosanitary certificate. Your supplier has to obtain this health certificate from the appointed body in their country.
Upon entry into the Netherlands, the NVWA will inspect the phytosanitary certificate. It may also carry out a physical check of the products. The NVWA offers information on document checks and inspections (in Dutch).