Business and economic experts sounded an urgent call for emerging economies in Asia to adopt electronic sanitary and phytosanitary certificates (SPS e-certs) to unlock the many benefits of cross-border paperless trade in food and agricultural products.
Ronald Antonio Butiong, chief of regional cooperation and integration for sustainable development at the Asian Development Bank (ADB), said in a recent webinar that digitalizing trade facilitation procedures is necessary for more inclusive trade and development.
This is more so in agriculture, on which many developing economies in the region depend.
Butiong explained: “Cross-border production networks in Asia and the Pacific are particularly strong in primary goods, including agriculture. In 2019, for instance, Asia’s global value chain participation rate was about 87% of its gross exports in the primary sector, higher than all other sectors, and about 70% of this comes from trade within Asia.”
Switching to SPS e-certs will benefit our economies, enhance trade, and promote rural employment and the participation of small businesses, he added.
He urged continued support for trade facilitation through enhancing digitalization, harmonizing policies, and building capacity in customs systems, largely by acquiring the needed technology and streamlining policies and procedures while promoting interoperability of ICT systems.
He expressed hope that SPS e-certs will become a reality, noting that “this is a topic that requires urgent action.”
Yann Duval, officer in charge of trade, investment and innovation at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP), said SPS e- certs are among the documents being prioritized by countries implementing cross- border paperless trade.
This, he said, means that SPS electronic certificates will be a key focus of discussions when the Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-Border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific is implemented starting early next year.
The Agreement, a UN ESCAP treaty adopted in May 2016 to accelerate the implementation of digital trade facilitation measures, entered into force on February 20, 2021.
It aims to promote cross-border paperless trade by enabling the exchange and mutual recognition of trade-related data and documents in electronic form and by facilitating interoperability among national and subregional single windows or other paperless trade systems.
Melvin Spreij, head of the Secretariat of the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF), at the same event noted that governments and industries are actively seeking solutions to move goods across borders more quickly and efficiently in the wake of the entry into force of the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement and as a result of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Spreij called for the increased use of electronic certification to facilitate safe trade in food and agriculture products.
“Paperless sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) systems can improve traceability throughout supply chains, cut trade times and costs, lower food waste, reduce fraudulent certificates and build trust among trading partners,” he said.
Oswald Kuyler, managing director of digital standards initiative at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), said paperless SPS systems offer enormous efficiency, effectiveness and risk-reduction benefits.
When economies transition to digital trade, it will ensure people’s health and safety by minimizing of physical contact, promote consumption of safe products, and solve the trade finance gap for entrepreneurs trying to support their families, he said.
Finally, Hilde Kruse, senior officer at Codex Alimentarius Commission Secretariat for the FAO/WHO Food Standards Program, disclosed that the Codex Committee on Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification Systems (CCFICS) has developed a draft guidance document on the paperless use of electronic certificates, including an electronic version of the Generic Model Official Certificate.
“It was highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic had illustrated the importance of paperless use of electronic certificates and the urgency to complete the revision of the existing guidelines,” said Kruse.
“Furthermore, this work is according to the CODEX Strategic Plan 2020-2025, which states that CODEX should address current, emerging and critical issues in a timely manner.”
Following the virtual presentation of the draft guidance three months ago, the final version will be presented to the Codex Alimentarius Commission for adoption when it meets from November 8 to November 18 this year, she said.
The Commission is the global body that develops principles and guidelines for food inspection and certification systems.
The Codex Alimentarius, or “Food Code,” is a collection of international standards, guidelines and codes of practice to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in the food trade. Codex standards are used worldwide to harmonize national food safety regulations and are recognized as the international reference point for food safety.
When food producers and traders comply with Codex standards, consumers can trust the safety and quality of the products they buy, and importers can have confidence that the food they ordered will meet the specifications.