Globalisation has yielded multiple benefits, including increased international trade. However, as any exporter can tell you, trading with other countries is never free from regulation – especially food. If you are considering exporting your food product, we set out the food export laws you should consider at the outset.

1. Why is there Regulation?

The primary reason that exporting countries regulate their food exports in line with international standards and agreements is so that the importing nation can be sure that the products are:

  • Fit for purpose; and
  • Meet their local standards.

The first is a public health and economic issue. No country wishes to import a product that could potentially lead to health problems or illnesses domestically. On their part, the exporting nation must ensure that their products are fit for purpose to preserve and safeguard the entire market. That brings real economic benefits.

For food exports, fit for purpose encompasses more than simply fit for human consumption. It also includes that these products are accurately described and labelled and fully traceable. That allows consumers overseas who need or wish to avoid certain ingredients or products to do so. It also means that if any issue arises with a product, the importing nation can pinpoint its source.  

Further, when exports meet the local standards of an importing country, it facilitates trade. That is one, critical reason why governments have food export laws. Importing nations who have confidence about the standards of the products they import may be less inclined to prohibit or introduce limits on those products. It is thus an economic incentive for the exporting nation.

2. What Regulations Affect Food Exports?

If you wish to export food, you will need to become familiar with the Export Control Act 1982 (Cth) (‘the Act’) and its associated regulations.

The Act prescribes certain goods. Many of these prescribed goods are food products. They include dairy products, egg and egg products, meat, fish and fruit and vegetables.

Of course, not all food products are prescribed under the Act. Highly processed foods are typically not prescribed because they are unlikely to transmit disease. They also pose little problems for food safety criteria. For example, this applies to wine exports – wine can usually be exported without government controls. Wine also does not typically need to comply with any certification regime.

Further, fish oil used in manufacturing and for pharmaceuticals products, as well as fish meal used to make pet food may not require government controls before export. However, be aware that these products often have to meet the various compliance regulations of importing countries, including certification.

So if you are considering exporting food, you need to find out at the outset whether your product is prescribed or non-prescribed in the Act. The website for the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) provides easily accessible information on, and lists of, prescribed and non-prescribed foods.  

If the Act prescribes your product, you must be aware of your compliance obligations.

3. Exporting a Prescribed Product

If you wish to export a prescribed product, all of those premises where the goods are prepared and readied must be formally registered to undertake those operations under the Export Control (Prescribed Goods – General) Order 2005. Premises includes fishing vessels.

‘Preparation’ has a broad meaning and includes:

  • Slaughter of animals and dressing of carcases;
  • Capturing or taking  of fish;
  • Processing, packing or storing of goods;
  • Quarantining, isolating, treating and testing livestock before export;
  • Treating goods; and
  • Handling and loading of goods.

As a prospective exporter, your business manager must apply for registration. You will need to construct your premises appropriately. All of your equipment and work practices must comply with export requirements.

If you are successful, the department will issue your premises with a letter and certificate of registration. You must display your certificate prominently at your business premises.

You will also need to check any requirements with those countries to which you intend to export. They may require that you formally list your business with them before exporting.

4. Implications of Registration

All registered exporters have obligations. These obligations include:

  • Being managed by a fit and proper person;
  • Complying with all appropriate standards (including minimum standards, export standards and importing country requirements);
  • Having and maintaining an approved arrangement;
  • Appropriately documenting all export consignments; and
  • Meeting any export specific requirements.

The DAWR website provides information on all of these obligations.

5. Exporting a Non-Prescribed Product

If the Act does not prescribe your product, you still need to be aware of any certification requirements or importing country requirements. This information is readily accessible on the DAWR website. For general guidance, the DAWR website is an excellent resource. However, if you are considering exporting your food product, it is advisable to seek professional advice to help clarify any outstanding questions.


The first step to understanding food export laws is to be aware of whether your food product is a prescribed or non-prescribed product. This will direct you in the correct compliance procedures. If you have any questions, get in touch with our commercial lawyers on 1300 544 755.

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