It is possible for a single producer of frozen processed foods such as lasagna to be required to submit 200 pages of certification paperwork per shipment to export their product.
There is an overarching reason for this abundance of documentary requirements: policymakers must ensure that produce from abroad does not harm local consumers, crops or livestock.
However, the sheer volume of regulatory requirements is undermining this objective, according to an APEC study of non-tariff barriers in agriculture and food trade conducted by the University of Southern California.
While some of these certificate requirements are necessary to verify the safety of imported foods, the study reports, their proliferation in the Asia-Pacific is straining regulators’ ability to guarantee the safety of food imports and burying food exporters in administrative red tape.
“More than 80 different official certificates are being used in the APEC region,” noted Marie Sherlyn D. Aquia, Chair of the APEC Committee on Trade and Investment. The Committee, meeting in Ho Chi Minh City through next week, is administering collaboration between regulatory authorities to improve food safety standards and regulation.
“We are working to ease bottlenecks to safe and efficient food trade between APEC member economies,” explained Aquia. “Reducing supply chain inefficiencies within the sector will ultimately benefit consumers by helping to keep food costs down and safeguard public health.”
Aquia added that certificate requirements for food exports must be focused, streamlined, science-based and compliant with the World Trade Organization Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, which sets out basic rules for food safety standards.
To achieve this, technical terms in the paperwork, for example, are to be aligned across APEC economies to minimize confusion and facilitate communication across food businesses and regulators. This also means scaling back requirements that exceed baseline needs.
“Certificate requirements need to have a clear purpose and need to be practical to be effective,” said Robert Macke, Deputy Administrator of the Foreign Agricultural Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, which is overseeing food export certificate cooperation in APEC.
“Our goal is to facilitate regulations in the Asia-Pacific that are grounded in science and applied only to the extent necessary to protect human, animal, or plant life or health,” he continued. “Where trade in a particular food product has low risk, certification may not play a necessary or legitimate role.”
The initiative to streamline food export regulations follows a call by the Leaders of APEC’s member economies for the reduction of unnecessary requirements in official certificates for agricultural products.
Agriculture and regulatory officials from APEC economies will concurrently meet in Can Tho, Viet Nam on 18-25 August to take policy next steps towards safer and more robust food trade in the region. They will do so in coordination with industry representatives who will also have a seat at the table.