SPS guidelines are now available for countries to utilise in the production and marketing of fish and fishery products © Lucy Brown/Alamy Stock Photo
The Caribbean’s ability to boost its foreign exchange earnings and access new intra-regional and international export markets has been severely hampered by gaps in its agricultural health, food safety and fisheries SPS measures. And yet, improving the competitiveness of food products through enhanced SPS measures is known to increase agricultural productivity, help to address supply chain challenges and improve regional food security. In order for the Caribbean to take advantage of export opportunities through compliance with EU measures, and to further integrate the 15 CARIFORUM States (CARICOM plus the Dominican Republic) into the global SPS market, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) launched a 4-year project in 2013 under the 10th European Development Fund (EDF) programme.
Building SPS capacity in the Caribbean
During the project, EDF stakeholders worked to strengthen legislation, coordination and regulatory mechanisms of the 15 CARIFORUM states to fortify SPS systems. Since project completion in early 2017, model regional plant, animal health, fisheries and food safety legislation are undergoing the final steps towards formal endorsement, and initial strides have been taken towards a harmonised SPS approach for the movement of food within the Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean States.
Guidelines and protocols are also now available for countries to utilise in the production and marketing of fish and fishery products, including the publication Guide to Food Safety Hazards in Caribbean Fishery Products. Legislation to facilitate modernisation of the honey trade in Trinidad and Tobago has also been updated. “Additionally, we developed effective national and regional coordination mechanisms in support of the SPS regime, including a framework for regional coordination in the areas of agricultural health, food safety and fisheries,” explains Dr Robert Ahern, the agricultural health and food safety leader at IICA. “As a result, active participation of Caribbean countries in the SPS international standard-setting process increased by 50%.”
The final component of the EDF initiative focused on developing national and regional regulatory and industry capacity. “We were able to improve capability across the region in agricultural health and food safety, contributing to stronger systems and thereby setting the stage for improved market access and the production of safer food,” Ahern explains. In regards to ongoing issues, Ahern continues, “The main challenge in the Caribbean has been highlighting the importance of SPS measures, so the required funding, support and personnel resources can be secured.”
Resolving intra-regional trade issues
To execute SPS actions more effectively and efficiently through a single body, the Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Agency (CAHFSA) was established in 2014. “Unfortunately, within member states, SPS requirements can be selectively interpreted, with members discriminating against each other, often citing protection against the spread of diseases as a reason to not let a product enter their domestic market,” states Simeon Collins, CAHFSA CEO. In order to address this issue, CAHFSA has completed country risk assessments for Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago to determine SPS risks for intra-regional trading of agricultural produce. The risks were identified as low or non-existent and, due to this, the Council for Trade and Economic Development has since taken a decision that poultry and duck meat can be traded among member states. Nine poultry processing plants in these six countries have been approved to trade among member states.
A number of other trade issues are being addressed by CAHFSA at the CARICOM level, such as intra-regional trade of Caribbean honey. Currently, honey from Guyana must be shipped through Trinidad and Tobago for regional and extra-regional marketing. However, Trinidad and Tobago laws prohibit the transportation of honey within 1 mile of its coastline. “We are looking at harmonised conditions for a permit controlling the importation of germplasms from animals and plants throughout the Caribbean, so every country will have the same procedure,” says Collins.
Through the Caribbean Development Bank, CAPSHA is also establishing ‘reference labs’ in the region to analyse animal and plant tissues, and has developed guidelines for preparing market access proposals to gain entry with the least hindrance to trade while, at the same time, preventing the spread of pests and diseases into new countries. “Finally, in the interest of transparency and knowledge-sharing, regional governments must notify members of any new SPS measures and this is not happening,” Collins explains. “Consequently, we are creating four web-based databases related to agricultural health and food safety to improve the exchange of information among technocrats and decision-makers across the Caribbean.”