In Parts 1 and 2 of this series we discussed labeling regulations for products imported into the United States and Europe. Part 3 takes on labeling regulations for the Australian market. As always, remember that these guides are intended for educational purposes only, and should not be used to replace professional legal advice.
Like the United States, Australia legislates product safety and information standards at both the state and federal levels. This means that importers may have to familiarize themselves with several different laws to demonstrate compliance to several different state and federal agencies. The good news is that unlike the U.S., the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission maintains a single, easy-to-use database of all product safety regulations: Product Safety Australia.
Also like the United States and Europe, Australian laws hold the importer responsible for unsafe or improperly labeled products, not the foreign manufacturer. This means that the responsibility to ensure compliance at every stage of production falls on the importer. Chinese suppliers should not be expected to be able to ensure compliance with Australian regulations unless you have provided them with specific instructions on how to do so in your purchase agreement. Penalties for importing unsafe products into Australia can run as high as $220,000 for individuals or $1.1 million for companies.
Your first step to ensuring compliance with Australian product safety laws should be to visit Product Safety Australia's list of banned products to make sure your product is not outright prohibited. Once you've confirmed the legality of your product, the next step is to see what mandatory standards apply to the type of product you're seeking to import. Keep in mind that a single product may fall under multiple categories and be subject to several different standards. It is the importer's responsibility to know the laws that pertain to their product, so research thoroughly! For more information about Australian mandatory product standards, read the About Mandatory Standards page. You'll find that in addition to safety regulations, mandatory information standards require that information like ingredients, quantity or weight, purpose, directions for use, etc. be displayed on products.
It's also a good idea at least to skim through any voluntary standards that might apply to your product, especially if you're importing something that is new to the market. It is common for government regulatory bodies to cite already existing voluntary standards in the legislation of mandatory standards. So even if your product is only covered by voluntary standards now, the same or similar standards may become mandatory if the government decides to step in.
Finally, check the product recall database to see if your product or anything similar to it has been subject to any recalls in the past. If it has, you'll be all the more likely to be audited for compliance by the ACCC or state governments. Under normal circumstances, all regulated products in Australia will be audited every year. But distributors or product classes that have had a history of compliance issues more often subjected to major safety audits. By following all relevant laws and knowing what to expect, the well-prepared importer can easily minimize the amount of time lost to this unfortunate but necessary inconvenience.