Economic growth and trade liberalisation are stimulating trade worldwide. While agriculture and food have been historically contentious issues in trade, liberalisation has generally prevailed. The current era of more liberal trade has resulted in consumer access to a greater variety of agricultural goods and has opened new markets for producers. This has positive flow-on effect for the international seed industry through increased demand for quality seed for production purposes and also to meet the ongoing need for innovative variety development.
However, the rapid increases in the volume and speed of international trade has also created greater challenges resulting from the introduction of pests and diseases into new areas and managing merging risks to potential new endangered areas. Many new organisms have been spread into previously geographically isolated areas via legitimate trade pathways, e.g., certified commercial consignments moving in international trade and “accidental” introductions from uncontrolled risk pathways, e.g., uncontrolled movement of risk goods via passengers and commerce. Many private sector companies and representative trade associations such as the Asia and Pacific Seed Association (APSA), are recognising the need to become more pro-actively involved in managing phytosanitary risks and strengthening their participation in national, regional and international phytosanitary affairs.
With increasing globalisation, the growing levels of international trade and the increased concerns about sanitary and phytosanitary safety, international agreements creating the framework for “rules-based” trade are becoming more important. The most relevant international agreements affecting the seed trade are the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures (SPS Agreement), Regional Trade Agreements, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Cartagena Protocol, the Montreal Protocol and most importantly the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC).
The IPPC provides the only global forum to exchange views on how best to address phytosanitary and related issues. It is an important instrument to facilitate the continuously expanding international trade in plant produce and other regulated articles capable of vectoring plant pests into endangered areas. The importance of the IPPC is clearly shown by the rapid increase in the number of contracting parties to the Convention. The major challenge in this respect is the development and implementation of International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPMs). These standards are expected to be developed and approved through a process that ensures that they have a strong phytosanitary and economic basis, that they can be applied in practice, and that they are consistent and understandable.
This is a labour intensive and time consuming process. The standard setting process under the IPPC relatively new and so far 27 standards have been produced. The demand for standards goes well beyond this number. Trade disputes, caused by disagreement over phytosanitary measures associated with international trade of plants and/or plant products often arise between trading partners. Such disagreements are fairly common occurrences and usually involve the use or misuse of phytosanitary measures included in import regulations. Many of these disputes are resolved quickly, e.g., at an operational level. However some remain unresolved for many years, e.g,. technically complex and/or politically sensitive market access issues, and are often considered as trade barriers. The recently developed IPPC Dispute Settlement Procedures are aimed at objectively evaluating the technical aspects of phytosanitary disputes, and they encourage contracting parties to enter into dialogue based on these technical issues with the aim of timely resolution.
The timely availability of accurate and up-to-date information is important for all Contracting parties to the IPPC. The specific information on export/import requirements is also of critical importance to the private sector to understand the nature and scope of current import specifications so that they can ensure that their consignments comply with the latest regulations. The IPPC contains a number of mandatory and optional information reporting obligations and responsibilities. The availability of phytosanitary information is variable, particularly up-to-date country-specific import requirements. This is an area of ongoing frustration for a number of phytosanitary stakeholders.
The evolution of large transnational corporations is also changing the scope of some traditional trading relationships. The way various business risks are managed, e.g., managing food safety risks is also changing. Large scale transnational groups have the organisational and technological capability to efficiently source from more diverse suppliers covering a wide range of geographical areas. In the food sector, modern supermarkets operate on a larger scale and bring increased food consumption diversity to consumers—this necessitates importing from more diverse regions worldwide to satisfy the demand. These trends place pressure on existing systems and also bring into play a new dimension with the emergence of industry-based technical and quality standards, e.g., Euro-gap that suppliers need to comply with. Not only is the regulatory framework for meeting official requirements becoming more complex but so are the compliance activities associated with overlapping industry-based standards.
The capacity and capability to absorb an increasing number of new and existing standards and apply these through domestic regulations and export/import systems is an ongoing challenge for many countries. All interventions inevitably place industry sectors under further pressure to implement compliance activities throughout the production and export supply chain. The ability and willingness of sector organisations to participate at all levels of phytosanitary related decision-making, standards development and implementation will be an important challenge into the future.
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