Mr Jean-Jacques Bouflet, Minister Counselor for Trade, Delegation of the European Commission,
Senator Vibul Khemchalerm,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to be here with you for the closing ceremony of FAO’s regional technical consultation on independent certification. I wish to thank you on behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations for having accepted my invitation to this important event.
Agriculture, poverty and trade
Developing countries in Asia and the Pacific are making progress towards the UN goal of halving hunger and poverty by 2015. Growth in agriculture, rural employment and income generation, as well as improvements in nutrition, will be central to continuing success in further reducing poverty in rural areas where seven out of ten of the world’s poor live.
The consequences of trade liberalization and globalization on small farmers are an issue of major concern – while globalization has generally led to progress in reducing poverty in Asia. But it has also led to the rise of multinational companies with the potential to disempower farmers in many countries. Developing countries thus need the legal and regulatory frameworks to ward off the threats while reaping the benefits.
Subsequently, it requires bold internal reforms within developing countries if free trade is to contribute to poverty reduction. Such reforms include: a reduction of the bias against agriculture in national policy making; incentives for long-term foreign investment in agriculture; the introduction of schemes to improve food quality and safety; investments in roads, irrigation, seeds and skills; improved food quality standards and safety nets for the poor who face higher food prices.
Against this background, Asia-Pacific agricultural ministers meeting in Jakarta in 2006 urged FAO to assist in capacity building for enterprise development and marketing for small agricultural producers in rural areas. The ministers also requested FAO to assist countries in enhancing capacities to meet international food quality, sanitary and phytosanitary standards – thus facilitating trade and safeguarding plant, animal and human health – and assist in establishing and maintaining appropriate regulations, monitoring and surveillance to ensure food quality and safety.
Independent certification of agricultural produce
Today's consumers want to know that the food they buy is safe, no matter where it was grown, raised or processed. Retailers, too, want the same assurances, and are requiring suppliers to demonstrate that they are providing safe, quality food that meets consumers' expectations. Retailers and wholesalers worldwide have identified the need for consistent, internationally accepted food safety and quality management systems. The resulting push towards good agricultural practices is thus not just coming from governments or environmental groups, but from the market itself.
However, one of the most serious difficulties faced by food producers and exporters in the developing world is coping with different safety standards being imposed by various importing countries. The need for greater harmonization of standards and more equivalence agreements, as well as the proliferation of private standards and certification schemes for food products was at the very heart of your discussions this week.
FAO considers that certification is an important tool to assure food quality and safety in the agrifood supply chain, and to increase the value of agrifood products. “Independent” or “third party” certification is increasingly becoming a requirement for agribusinesses as a means to protect the consumers from adulterated foods and to strengthen the consumers’ trust in the quality and safety of agrifood products. In particular, certification has become a de facto prerequisite for export to many industrialized countries where the majority share of agrifood distribution is in the hands of multinational food companies and retail chains.
However, the development of a robust quality control system – with regulations, accreditation and certification bodies – is a major challenge for developing countries. Unlike the relatively stable and predictable manufactured goods’ sector, some of the constraints faced by industry stakeholders in developing a quality control system are directly linked to the specific characteristics of agrifood products: seasonality, climatic instability, natural variability of the produce, isolated rural areas, etc.
The costs involved in investing and complying with quality and safety standards, let alone the costs of certification audits are also a hurdle to the inclusion of smallholder producers into certified agrifood chains.
It is for this reason that FAO is promoting practices leading to favourable enabling business environments in Asia. Improving the business capabilities of agro-enterprises is a regular component of FAO’s technical assistance on rural livelihoods development to member countries. The Organization is also involved in improving food quality and safety in Asian countries such as support in identifying problems affecting commodity trade and proposing solutions to address these; strengthening national food control systems, and developing and implementing standards for food quality and safety.
The way ahead
At the conclusion of your technical consultation allow me to add that helping resolve this problem is an issue of particular importance to FAO. Retailers reflecting market trends have a responsibility to help suppliers in the developing world cope. FAO and other international development organizations also will need to enhance focus and resources to help the developing world's food sector adapt.
I am thus eager to hear the results of your consultations. FAO will analyze the recommendations and action plans you have proposed to tackle the challenges identified for the different countries in the region, and convey your conclusions to your governments.
The lessons learned from this technical consultation will help FAO to develop future programmes which should become catalytic instruments for regional cooperation in this emerging field. Indeed, the ongoing process of accumulating technical experience and knowledge on developing agro-enterprises and food quality and safety will be synthesized and major policy issues will be presented to ministers of agriculture at the 29th session of the FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific, to be held in Pakistan in May 2008. I trust this process will lead to high-level policy recommendations and decisions on action to foster more competitive agro-enterprises and production of high-quality and safe agrifood products in the region.
Before I conclude, I wish to express our gratitude to Swift Company Limited, BCS ?ko-Garantie, Bureau Veritas, the International Fruit (Bangkok) Company Limited, SGS (Thailand) Limited, CPF Food Products Company Limited and the Central Islamic Committee of Thailand for collaborating in the organization of your field visits. Finally, I thank you all again, as well as the FAO colleagues, for coming here to share your expertise on independent certification of agrifood products.