Important considerations on the New EU Plant Health Regulation

Interview with Morag Webb, COLEACP Special Advisor

COLEACP manages development programmes that support ACP horticultural value chains – producers; micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs); and local services and public authorities. It supports public-private capacity building and collaboration to strengthen the competitiveness and sustainability of the ACP horticultural sector (mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa), and regularly responds to requests from both public and private stakeholders in the fields of food safety and plant protection. The programmes are financed by donors, including the European Union, the French Development Agency, and the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF), among others. COLEACP (the Europe-Africa-Caribbean-Pacific Liaison Committee) has been supporting sustainable horticultural trade for over 45 years and continues to build on its cascading training system in 50 countries, as well as its focused commitment to social and environmental sustainability.

1. 2018 was a difficult year due to lower than expected prices since the market was forced to absorb an excessive supply of tropical and counter-seasonal fruit from tropical countries. How will the future look for African fresh fruit and vegetables in Europe? Will there be a profitable market? What opportunities and challenges do you foresee?

MW: Early next year, COLEACP will be publishing two market studies of the fruit and vegetable industry in Sub-Saharan Africa and in the European Union, which cast an interesting light on the trends. The report on Sub-Saharan Africa gives a broad overview of the horticultural trade with the EU28 countries over the past 15 years. Fruit and vegetable exports from Sub-Saharan Africa to the EU have been overtaken by those to East Asia from 2012 onwards.

In terms of value, the trade balance with Europe remains positive and is rising – exports of higher-value items like processed fruit and vegetable products, and to a lesser extent fresh fruit, have been growing quickly. This trend is likely to continue as the proportion of fruit and vegetables in European diets increases, but there is also growing pressure from ‘locavorism’ favoured by new generations of consumers, especially those who are concerned about the environment. The full market studies will be available to COLEACP’s partners, members and beneficiaries early in 2020.

2. The European Union has introduced the new Plant Health Regulation (EU) 2016/2031, becoming fully applicable on 14 December 2019. What are the key modifications and what are the potential impacts on fruit and vegetable exports coming from tropical countries?

MW: Changes to plant health rules under current Directive 2000/29/EC as well as the new Plant Health Regulation EU 2016/2031 are placing increasing demands on inspection services and National Plant Protection Organisations in ACP countries. According to the new regulation, all fruits and vegetables (with five exceptions: pineapple, coconut, durian, banana, date) that are exported to Europe must now be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate.

There will be documentary and physical checks on arrival in Europe, and under the new regulations, the European authorities must inspect a minimum of 1% of all consignments, rising to 100% in the case of regulated pests. This means that inspections at the point of export must be done very thoroughly – if pests are found on arrival in Europe, especially regulated pests, the EU authorities are likely to take action that has serious consequences for export sectors.

It will be important that SPS inspectors make sure they get further information on recommended additional procedures in the case of regulated pests. And they should receive regular updates and training to make sure they have the detailed information and skills they need to conduct their tasks effectively.

3. Can you give us examples of the relevance that cold chain can play in this context?

MW: At a recent round table co-organised by Air France KLM Martinair and COLEACP, which brought together all stakeholders in the mango sector in West Africa, this issue was raised by exporting producers – especially those who are sustainability champions in Senegal or Burkina Faso and who, despite their efforts, still see their pallets remain on the tarmac in the sun due to a lack of infrastructure at the airport. This can lead to the development of pests and/or the deterioration of fruit quality.

If one link in the chain is weak, the whole chain suffers, and particularly the producers. That is why COLEACP takes a holistic approach to support value chains.

4. COLEACP recently alerted about emergency measures taken by the EU due to the identification of high-risk pest in imported crops such as mango, citrus, capsicum (peppers) and peaches, with important changes around phytosanitary certificates. What are the main changes and how this is affecting exports to the EU?

MW: Due to high numbers of interceptions of mango imports due to the presence of fruit fly (non-European Tephritidae), the new Implementing Directive (EU) 2019/523 on mango imports (para. 16.5) has been applied from 1 September 2019. Exporters and National Plant Protection Organisations must send a dossier to the European Commission outlining in detail the “effective treatment” that will be applied for this pest.

This treatment could include post-harvest control of fruit fly, and/or a pre-harvest “systems approach” that covers control and management (IPM) of the pest in the field. To prepare this dossier, the NPPO must work closely with the mango industry to agree on the treatment. Once the dossier is submitted, all growers must strictly follow the agreed treatment – so it’s important to come up with a treatment plan that is effective, but is also practical for small-scale as well as large-scale growers.

For capsicum, some citrus species, peach and pomegranate, Implementing Directive (EU) 2019/523 states (para. 16.6) that dossiers describing the “effective treatment” applied for false codling moth (Thaumatotibia leucotreta) must now also provide documentary evidence of the treatment’s effectiveness, communicated in advance in writing by the NPPO of the third country concerned to the Commission.

5. How does COLEACP raise awareness about the new Plant Health Regulations and about emergency measures applied to imports into the EU?

MW: We issue timely “FLASH” emails to all our members and beneficiaries summarising new and updated EU directives and regulations, as well as emergency SPS measures taken by the EU. Information is also disseminated through our social media, local and regional workshops, and meetings. We try to clearly explain the main impacts of the regulations, which can be difficult to penetrate, and to indicate what actions companies and organisations need to take. COLEACP also regularly conducts meetings and training courses in many ACP countries via a network of local capacity-building experts, and uses those occasions to pass on updates.

6. What type of assistance can private operators/exporters (in ACP countries) receive from COLEACP about EU Plant Health regulation?

MW: The most effective way to meet the EU regulations is to ensure that all produce leaving the packhouse for export is pest-free. This means implementing very effective crop monitoring (scouting) and pest management in the field, as well as tight controls in the packhouse to check for the presence of pests and diseases. COLEACP offers training to help producers in this regard, with courses such as integrated pest management and safe use of pesticides. Support is also available to establish in-house inspection and quality management systems.

Guides are available for the management of some critical regulated pests, such as false codling moth, and COLEACP members can access a database giving information on plant protection products, including EU authorisations and maximum residue levels.

It’s important for exporters to be aware that if one company ships infested produce, it will damage the entire sector, as it could trigger stricter rules and controls by the EU authorities. In the case of critical regulated pests (such as fruit fly, fall armyworm and false codling moth), COLEACP works with both public and private sectors to help develop and implement a national action plan.

7. What is your advice for African agro-exporters that are currently exporting to EU about precaution measures to avoid rejections? How they can be updated on modifications? Anything specific on cold chain?

MW: Taking again the example of the cold chain for the mango sector by air, Côte d’Ivoire’s airport has had a cold room for two years. This was possible because mango exporting producers lobbied the government on its crucial importance to prevent fruit being lost even before it leaves the country, despite all the producers’ efforts upstream.

Dialogue between the various links in the supply chain, and between the private and public sectors, is vital to promote investments like this that serve exporting producers. Air France KLM Martinair has offered to communicate with airports in West Africa on these issues.

Also, where the infrastructure does exist, we need to ensure all actors in the chain respect the cold chain and use it wisely. Information and training from the beginning of the supply chain, for all producers, is key, and this is part of COLEACP’s mission. In Kenya, for example, we regularly offer training on post-harvest treatment of avocadoes, so that at the end of the chain the produce is not rejected by customers due to poor quality. Compliance with good practices by all is a major challenge – it only takes a few problems for an entire country’s exports to be affected.

So whether horizontally or vertically, the chain is strong if none of its links is weak.

8. Can you tell us more about COLEACP’s work? What are your work areas and programs?

MW: COLEACP’s two main programmes currently are Fit For Market and Fit For Market SPS, financed by the EU at the request of the ACP Group of States (Fit For Market is co-financed by the French Development Agency). Both programmes work to enable stakeholders all along the horticultural value chain to access national, regional and international markets by complying with SPS standards and market requirements, within a sustainable framework. Fit For Market focuses on businesses, and Fit For Market SPS aims to strengthen public sector services like NPPOs. Since the two programmes were launched (in 2016 and 2019, respectively), COLEACP has received around 800 requests for support from enterprises and other private and public actors, representing the varied range of challenges facing the agri-food industry in ACP countries. COLEACP supports them, individually or collectively, to improve their managerial, technical and training skills. By focusing on the business case, we show how adopting good agricultural practices not only facilitates market access but genuinely helps suppliers run more efficient, profitable and resilient businesses.

COLEACP also manages national programmes in Sub-Saharan Africa (Cameroon, Guinea, Togo), financed by the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF) global partnership, to strengthen SPS control systems in specific value chains: vegetables, mango, potatoes, and Penja pepper.

At COLEACP we believe that ongoing changes in the global agri-food model at all levels – production, processing, marketing and consumption – call for continuous training and professional capacity development, adapted to a new sustainable agriculture model. This means increasing production while minimising impacts on the climate, ecosystems and environment through agro-ecological practices. We especially need to address the social and economic dimensions of sustainability in agriculture, with a special emphasis on job creation for young people in ACP countries, and also for small-scale family farms and women’s enterprises. Sub-Saharan Africa is well-positioned to become the driving force behind a new, sustainable model of agriculture.

COLEACP’s motto is Growing people  – we aim to give companies and people the means to flourish while respecting the environment and the humanity of each individual.

Growing people also involves our members working to achieve sustainable development objectives through building their capacity in agri-food production and marketing chains at national, regional and global levels.

Morag Webb, Special Advisor, Sustainable Agricultural Value Chains, COLEACP

For more information visit COLEACP website or you can reach them at Fruit Logistica at Hall 26, stand C-28.