Saudi Arabia - Country Commercial Guide
Standards for Trade

This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.

Last published date: 2019-10-13

Overview

Saudi Arabia adheres to standards developed both domestically by SASO and by the GSO, an umbrella group serving the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council.  While the GSO continues to push for standards harmonization across the Gulf, SASO maintains significant authority in developing, elaborating on, and enforcing standards for Saudi Arabia specifically.

Over the course of 2016, Saudi Arabia continued to revise technical regulations for a variety of products based solely on standards developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), marking a shift from the Kingdom’s longstanding reliance on standards developed by U.S.-domiciled standards development organizations (SDOs).  Saudi Arabia’s exclusion of these U.S. SDO international standards, which are often used by U.S. manufacturers, have created significant market access restrictions for industrial and consumer products manufactured to these standards and exported from the United States.

While standards are set by SASO, the Saudi Ministry of Commerce and Investment laboratories carry out testing of all processed and packaged food items at various ports of entry.  The Saudi Ministry of Municipality and Rural Affairs’ Environmental Control Department tests foodstuffs at the point of sale for product safety standards.  Although SASO has an advisory, rather than enforcement role, it coordinates its activities among different enforcement agencies in the country to control product quality and standards.

Saudi Arabia is the most influential member of the GCC, which includes five other countries in the Arabian Peninsula: United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, and Qatar. As a group, the GCC strives to create a common set of standards.  SASO is the only Saudi organization responsible for setting national standards for commodities and products, measurements, testing methods, meteorological symbols and terminology, commodity definitions, safety measures, and environmental testing, as well as other requirements approved by the organization’s Board of Directors.

Standards

SASO has published over 20,500 standards and is actively pursuing the promulgation of hundreds of new standards currently in various stages of development.  SASO has shown increasing reluctance in recognizing standards developed by U.S. SDOs, which are international standards.  It would be prudent for U.S. companies to consider this matter seriously in planning to do business in Saudi Arabia.  There may be many cases where procurement agencies will insist on purchasing and placing orders from firms whose manufacturing processes follow ISO 9000 or an equivalent quality management system.  We advise reaching a clear understanding with the Saudi purchaser before proceeding with shipment.

Saudi Arabia’s residential electric power system of 127/220 volts, 60 hertz, is unique and has caused export problems for many American firms.  However, SASO will accept electrical products as low as 120 volts, 60 hertz.  The SAG is moving to make 220 volts the only accepted standard.

The Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) has authority over imported telecommunications and IT products and services.  Recently, the CITC has taken a more proactive role and has published a number of technical specifications relating to various products and services within its jurisdiction.

The Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) is responsible for regulating, overseeing, and controlling food, drug, medical devices, as well as setting mandatory standard specifications thereof, whether they are imported or locally manufactured.  The control and/or testing activities can be conducted at any of the SFDA’s approved laboratories.  The SFDA is also in charge of consumers’ awareness on all matters related to food, drug and medical devices and associated products and supplies.

The SFDA was established by the Council of Ministers in January 2003, as an independent body that directly reports to the King.  The SFDA’s objectives are to ensure the safety of food for human and animal consumption and the safety, efficacy, and security of drugs, biologics, medical devices, dietary supplements, etc.  Saudi food standards are based mainly on Codex Alimentarius standards and to some extent on European and U.S. standards but modified to reflect local conditions.

Testing, Inspection and Certification

In January 2018 SASO rolled out SALEEM SABER, an electronic certification and conformity assessment system, replacing CoC, that became mandatory for all imported goods entering Saudi Arabia as of July 2018.  Saber (https://saber.sa) is an electronic service provider for obtaining Certificates of Conformity for products destined to the Saudi Arabian market under applicable Saudi standards and specifications rules.  The service is provided under the supervision of Saudi Standards, Metrology and Quality Organization (SASO) in collaboration with Thiqah For Business Services. 

Referred to simply as Saber, the system is an online verification tool which connects importers, SASO-approved certification bodies, and Saudi customs and related trade authorities in one online system.  Saudi Arabia’s purpose for initiating this program is to accelerate the clearance of the upcoming shipments, reduce counterfeit consumer products, more easily track products, and raise the number of SASO-standard-conforming products in the Saudi market.

Saber works like an online portal and covers both regulated and unregulated products.  To submit a regulated product for importation, the importer will have to initiate the certification request by first, registering their product into the Saber system by entering the product details; then, selecting the product’s classification; next, have a SASO-approved certification body assigned to the product for conformity assessment; and finally, await an approval certificate.  If the product receives its approval certificate, the importer is then issued a shipment certificate, and is sent to Saudi customs before the product can enter the market.  The entire process is done online through the Saber system.

For unregulated products, the importer can simply self-declare the product or products meets a voluntary standard and the good can be imported into the Saudi market.  To self-declare a product, the importer must enter the product details into Saber, attach technical files and documents, and then be issued a Requester Declaration (S-DoC).  The importer is then allowed to receive a shipment certificate, their product is sent to customs and then may enter the market.

SASO is responsible for establishing labeling and other marketing guidelines for goods in the Saudi market.  The Ministry of Commerce and Investment implements SASO guidelines through its inspection and test laboratories at ports of entry into the Kingdom.  Companies must pay special attention to labeling requirements, particularly for food products, personal care products, health care products, and pharmaceuticals.  SASO has specific requirements for identifying marks and labels for various imported items.

All food products, whether imported for commercial purposes, display, or for sampling, must be fit for human consumption and should meet established shelf life requirements.  The product(s) must have a label or sticker showing statutory information such as product name, country of origin, ingredients, producer’s name and address, production and expiry/use by dates, instructions for use, in the Arabic and English languages (samples imported must be labeled at least in English).  It is vital that American exporters adhere to SASO quality standards and labeling regulations to avoid rejection of products at a Saudi port of entry.

Quality control laboratories at ports of entry may reject products that are in violation of existing standards and laws.  Products that do not meet established SASO standards are either re-exported to the country of origin or destroyed at the importer’s expense.  Companies can request a copy of the labeling requirements by contacting SASO by phone at (+966-11) 452-0132 or by fax at (+966-1) 452-0196.

Since 2005, Saudi Arabia has had in place a shelf life standard (manufacturer-determined use-by dates) for most foodstuffs with the exception of selected perishable foods (fresh or chilled meat and poultry; fresh milk and fresh milk-based products; margarine; fresh fruit juice; table eggs; and baby foods) that must meet SASO’s established mandatory expiration periods.  The revised standard (SASO 457/2005) no longer bans imports of food products with less than half of shelf life remaining.  The method for writing production and expiry dates is to put the day of the month first, followed by month and year.  Use of the system commonly followed in the United States, where the month is shown first, is not acceptable in Saudi Arabia.  American manufacturers are urged to discuss labeling requirements with their designated representative or distributor before shipping products to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is introducing energy efficiency labeling requirements for household appliances.  In addition, energy efficiency standards and labeling requirements are being developed through the Saudi Energy Efficiency Center (SEEC) in cooperation with SASO.  The SEEC is a national program and public-private partnership, to curb energy consumption in three sectors which are responsible for 90% of Saudi energy consumption: construction, land transportation, and industry sectors. 

For construction, the SEEC is identifying best practices for energy efficiency in building and developing a new standard for a system to monitor air conditioning and insulation materials imported to or manufactured in Saudi Arabia. 

For land transportation, energy efficiency standards work will require new cars to be more fuel efficient, making vehicle suppliers provide additional labeling information on their products hitting the market. In the industry sector, the intent is to increase energy efficiency in the steel, cement, and chemicals industries in the first phase.  The SEEC website and further information can be found here.

In general, U.S. agricultural and food exports to Saudi Arabia enjoy market access with a few exceptions, including stringent requirements for poultry and meat exports.  The import ban imposed by the SFDA on U.S. beef and beef products in May 2012, following the discovery of an atypical BSE case in California, has been lifted through an agreement between the SFDA and USDA/USTR to open the Saudi market for U.S. beef exports.  Practical obstacles remain before U.S. beef and beef products can enter the Saudi market, however, including the establishment of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) program for Export Verification (EV) for animals targeting Saudi Arabia’s market.  The EV program certifies that the slaughtered cattle for export to Saudi Arabia have not been fed with animal protein, except for fishmeal and milk replacers, at any stage of the cattle’s life.

In addition, the SFDA has not yet lifted temporary import bans that it imposed in 2015 on U.S. poultry and egg products from U.S. states that initially confirmed the presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in their poultry farms, despite the World Organization for Animal Health, (OIE)’s, declaration that the states are free of the influenza.

The states affected by the ban include: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Oregon, California, Washington, Idaho, Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Nebraska and Indiana.  The temporary ban imposed on the individual state is effective until these states are officially declared free from HPAI.  The SFDA’s temporary bans exclude poultry and products that are thermally treated and certified by a competent authority (USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service — FSIS) to be free from HPAI.  The FSIS Export Library for Saudi Arabia lists the names of U.S. states that are ineligible for exporting uncooked poultry and their products to Saudi Arabia because of the outbreak of HPAI.

SFDA requests that all U.S. poultry and meat exports to Saudi Arabia be accompanied by a health certificate issued by FSIS attesting that the poultry slaughtered for export to Saudi Arabia was not fed with products containing animal protein, fat or remnants of animal origin.  This condition has drastically reduced the number of U.S. poultry meat suppliers that can fulfill the SFDA’s poultry feed requirements.  The SAG has also agreed that any maximum residue requirements for synthetic hormones in animal products would be consistent with international standards. 

Publication of Technical Regulations

Final regulations are published in the official gazette of Saudi Arabia, Umm al- Qurā.

Contact Information

Dr. Saud Al-Kassabi, Governor
Saudi Arabian Standards Organization (SASO)
P.O. Box 3437,
Riyadh 11471,
Saudi Arabia
Tel.: (+966-11) 456-9893
Fax: (+966-11) 452-0086
 
Dr. Hisham Al-Jadhey, Chief Executive Officer
Saudi Food & Drug Authority (SFDA)
P.O. Box 84983,
Riyadh 11681,
Saudi Arabia
Tel.: (+966-11) 275-2665
Fax: (+966-11) 275-1164
 
Eng. Abdullah Al-Royyes, Governor
Communications & Information Technology Commission (CITC)
P.O. Box 75606,
Riyadh 11588,
Saudi Arabia
Tel.: (+966-11) 461-8330
Fax: (+966-11) 461-8002
E-mail: info@citc.gov.sa
 
Mr. Ahmed Al Haqbani, Director General
Saudi Customs Authority
P.O. Box 3483,
Riyadh 11197,
Saudi Arabia
Tel.: (+966-11) 402-2515
Fax: (+966-11) 405-9282
E-mail: customs_dg@customs.gov.sa

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Notify U.S. Service

Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) are required under the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement) to notify to the WTO proposed technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures that could affect trade.  Notify U.S. (www.nist.gov/notifyus) is a free, web-based e-mail registration service that captures and makes available for review and comment key information on draft regulations and conformity assessment procedures. Users receive customized e-mail alerts when new notifications are added by selected country(ies) and industry sector(s) of interest and can also request full texts of regulations.  This service and its associated web site are managed and operated by the USA WTO TBT Inquiry Point housed within the National Institute of Standards and Technology, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.