On 15 June 2012, it was announced by SANCO, the EC’s directorate-general for health and consumers, that the frequency of inspections on a targeted list of imports of Asian vegetables from the Dominican Republic would be reduced from 50 to 25% of all consignments. Initially inspection levels had been increased in both 2008 and 2010, in response to the detection of higher than permitted pesticide residues on consignments.
The decision of June 2012 recognised the progress made in implementing the recommendations of EU Food and Veterinary Office inspectors following the visits in 2008 and 2010. The decision will reduce the number of inspections and hence the unit cost of exporting the affected products to the EU. The establishment of traceability systems and training of farmers in the use of pesticide and food safety management, as well as training to improve the handling of products throughout the supply chain, all benefited from support from the COLEACP PIP initiative.
The PIP programme, which has already worked on analysis of national legislation and functioning of the competent authority, and has reviewed surveillance and control programmes, laboratory facilities, reporting mechanisms and inspection services, will now ‘focus on plant health inspection services and analytical laboratory capacity’.
The handling of pesticide concerns in the Dominican Republic highlights a number of points.
The first of these was the revision of inspection requirements to target the Asian vegetables which were the source of concern, rather than all vegetable imports. This targeting reduced the overall costs to the sector. Such a targeted approach is increasingly needed, in view of moves at EU member-state level to ensure greater cost recovery for inspection services in response to fiscal constraints (see Agritrade article ‘ UK fresh produce inspection charges increased’, 23 April 2012.
Second, and more significant, was the prompt action taken by both the private and public sector in the Dominican Republic to address the underlying concerns which prompted the EU to raise the level of inspections. ‘Aid for trade’ support has a role to play in this regard, particularly where additional resources may be needed in the short term to deal with the problems identified (as government budgetary processes can take time to respond). ‘Aid for trade’ initiatives can also facilitate the process of transmitting the important lessons on food safety control issues across sectors.
Finally, fundamental to better targeting of inspections (thus minimising additional costs) is the establishment of effective traceability schemes. This requires the establishment of a clearly defined public policy framework within which such schemes can be set in place. It can however carry significant costs, and therefore needs to be balanced against the volume of trade involved. This is far less of a challenge in the Dominican Republic compared to other smaller ACP states, where the volume of trade may not warrant the establishment of sophisticated systems of traceability.