In June 2014, Confectionery News reported that UTZ Certified and Fair Trade USA are “piloting a collaborative cocoa certification scheme” designed to reduce the costs of dual certification (in this case, certifying that a product meets both organisations’ standards). The organisations noted that “in the past, farmers seeking dual certification had to comply with two complete sets of requirements and undergo and pay for two different audits.” Under the new arrangements, a single audit process, conducted by “an independent body, which had received training in both standards”, would be sufficient. The module for the single audit process is currently being developed.
This collaboration in the cocoa sector is seen as a pilot initiative, but UTZ Certified and Fair Trade USA hope that the process of single audits can be extended to other sectors if the approach proves beneficial for producers. They also hope that collaborative audits will give farmers “better access” to differentiated product markets at little extra cost.
Promoting coordination and harmonisation of certification audits across a growing number of schemes potentially offers cost savings to producers, thereby increasing the net benefits they can derive from different forms of certification, by allowing them to access higher-priced product markets (see Agritrade article ‘ Voluntary sustainability standards covering a growing volume of trade’, 16 March 2014 ).
In some ACP countries, sector-wide initiatives have been launched to coordinate audit requirements across a range of standards, in order to reduce the costs of audits and hence certification, under a multiplicity of standards. The Sustainability Initiative of South Africa is pioneering the way in the fruit sector, ‘enabling mutual recognition of audits among international and local retailers’, by replacing numerous standards and audits with a single, widely recognised audit process. (see Agritrade article ‘ South Africa establishes single ethical trade standard’, 4 January 2013 ).
Sharing this experience across the ACP and broadening out the geographical and product coverage of such audit coordination and harmonisation schemes could prove of value. This is particularly the case in view of the escalating costs of non-tariff measures for ACP exporters. Such schemes could potentially assist in slowing down the process of marginalisation of small and medium sized-producers from high-value export supply chains.
A far bigger policy issue, however, relates to promoting public sector bodies’ recognition of the audit and certification procedures carried out under internationally recognised private sector schemes within the design and conduct of official food safety and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) controls.
Where private schemes already require verifiable compliance with food safety and SPS requirements, a case can be made for a reduction of official controls and of the charges made for the verification of compliance.
This takes on increased significance in those markets where governments are moving towards full recovery of the costs of official controls, to reduce financial pressures on state funds.