Food safety and trade: the Codex reward
Meeting Codex standards can open doors to trade
Meeting the recommended safety and quality standards of the Codex Alimentarius Commission can open markets for food products in many parts of the world, resulting in increased income for exporting countries. That's why regions that have not traditionally been major exporters of food products, like the Near East and Africa, are moving to meet Codex standards as regional foods gain popularity in the Northern Hemisphere.
Meeting Codex standards is not without cost. But, trade in food products has tremendous potential to improve the economies of developing countries by providing increased employment and better standards of living. This is indispensable in a region like the Near East, where the scarcity of water prohibits further agricultural expansion. Despite the fact that Near East food products total only 4 percent or less of world agricultural trade, they provide a vital source of foreign exchange especially for non-petroleum economies.
Developing countries need better food regulatory systems
Most Near East and African countries have already taken steps to improve their food safety systems. However, in a region dominated by the export of commodities such as fruit, vegetables, olive oil and fish, the complexity of meeting ever-evolving standards, requires boosting the capacity of local experts and the existing food regulatory infrastructure.
In the Near East, intra-regional trade in food products has greatly expanded in recent years under regional agreements such as the Arab Free Trade Area, the Arab Maghreb Union and the Gulf Cooperation Council. None of these agreements has been fully implemented and full tariff rates are still applied while complicated administrative procedures continue in most countries of the Near East. Other challenges facing intra-regional trade include the lack of diversity in agricultural products, non-tariff trade barriers, inadequate trading support services and divergent political and economic interests.
Increased international food trade eludes many developing countries
All these difficulties combine to put the even bigger prize of international food trade further in the future for many Near East and African countries. Today, more than 50 percent of exports from the Near East to the European Union come from Egypt, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia.
Faced with these challenges the FAO Regional Conference for the Near East, held in Doha from 13 to 17 March 2005, announced a plan to raise awareness of the importance of food safety and quality among policy- and decision-makers of the region. The conference urged food producers and industry to take advantage of international and regional export opportunities and to pursue unfair cases before the World Trade Organization. The meeting urged Near East countries to make information on rejected food consignments available to the public on the Internet.
The Near East Conference also called on FAO and WHO to strengthen the capacity of the region to manage food safety and improve food and agricultural trade by providing appropriate technical assistance as part of an overall action plan.
4 July 2005
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