The CAREC Institute and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) held a joint workshop titled “Modernizing Sanitary-Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures in CAREC and Use of Digital Certification” on 24 February 2021.
This learning module supports the common agenda for modernization of SPS measures for trade endorsed by CAREC Ministers in 2015. The SPS experts from ADB, CAREC Institute, World Trade Organization (WTO) and other development partners discussed areas for strengthening SPS systems in CAREC countries and support post-pandemic recovery. It was noted that CAREC members have significant trade potential in agriculture and this potential could be leveraged by increased harmonization and digitalization.
Participants discussed common challenges experienced by CAREC members across plant health, animal health, and food safety, which include poor understanding of both importing and country phytosanitary requirements and pest risks of imported goods, lack of accurate pest distribution data as a basis for regulated pest lists, remote location of border crossing points from central laboratories, ambiguous division of responsibilities among different agencies, insufficient secondary legislation, inadequate balance between food control and trade facilitation, etc.
Under the CAREC SPS Program, dialogues have been held on transboundary animal disease and regional pest surveillance, several workshops have been organized on SPS topics, and the CAREC-wide SPS working group has been established. Several other ongoing and planned SPS initiatives include improving risk management capacities in Mongolia, supporting plant quarantine roadmap in Uzbekistan, pilot of simplified modern food safety management and inspection systems in Turkmenistan, and guideline development for import of food products from third countries into the Kyrgyz Republic.
The WTO representative discussed the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) ePhyto solution elaborating that 90+ countries are already connected to the ePhyto hub, 50+ countries exchange electronic certificates with some 60,000 certificates per month, whereas work is ongoing to reach the capacity of 100,000-certificate exchanges per day. Some challenges in implementing SPS e-certification include weaknesses in existing paper-based systems, inadequate legislative framework, lack of political will, limited collaboration between public and private sectors, lack of standardized exchange protocols, high costs, and inadequate IT infrastructure.
Dr. Ghulam Samad of the CAREC Institute presented findings of the Institute’s research which attempted to assess the potential of digital phytosanitary certificates and facilitated analysis of the underlying mechanisms for recognition and use of such certificates. He elaborated on the readiness of legal basis for exchange of phytosanitary certificates in CAREC, list of phytosanitary import requirements available to the phytosanitary certificate issuing agencies, standardized terms and codes used by CAREC countries, and security of data exchange. The research found five major reasons as to why CAREC countries do not practice mutual recognition of phytosanitary e-certificates at this stage. These are: lack of technically qualified and authorized phytosanitary personnel; need for mutual recognition agreements; absence of phytosanitary certification e-systems; need for strong security standards to prevent fraud; and the development stage of phytosanitary certification e-systems.
It was mentioned the Uzbekistan has been exchanging ePhyto with trading partners since October 2020.
Experts also noted several sub-regions with different SPS approaches within CAREC which present additional challenges in harmonization of standards and methods. Suggestions were made how priorities could be aligned.