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Section 3: Trade and Import Policy in the Non-traditional Agricultural Export Sector


Among non-traditional agricultural exports, the overwhelming majority of trade takes place in the horticultural[14] sector and individual countries' import and tariff policies reflect this bias.

In the main, import policy measures are driven by a desire to protect domestic fruit and vegetable producers in destination countries. Hence, in temperate countries, import tariffs and other measures tend to be lowest and least restrictive on tropical fruits, and highest on temperate fruits and vegetables, particularly during the domestic growing season. The converse tends to be true within many (tropical) developing countries, where import tariffs on tropical fruits have been bound under the Uruguay Round Agriculture Agreement (URAA), although not necessarily applied, at generally high ad-valorem tariffs. Typically, these range between 35 percent and 100 percent).[15]

Because many importing countries also have well-developed domestic horticultural sectors, the importation of fruits, vegetables and cut-flowers can be a highly sensitive issue. Domestic pressures from producers and their representatives often results in governments introducing additional measures to control imports. During recent years, a number of countries have taken steps to further protect their domestic industries by raising tariffs, introducing tariff quotas and, occasionally, implementing outright bans.[16]

Overall, the tariff systems in importing countries can be highly complex. This is particularly true in the EU. Here, exporters must negotiate a complex raft of tariff/preferential quotas, entry prices and a wide range of import duties which are country, import price or season-dependent.

A further hindrance to trade in fruit and vegetables worldwide is the lack of harmonized technical standards and treatments. Some countries apply the Codex Alimentarius standards for maximum (pesticide) residue levels (MRLs), whilst other countries apply their own, often stricter, MRLs which may only partially conform to Codex. Statutory food safety policy instruments are also being overtaken by a large number of private standards imposed by the global retailers and processors, led by the supermarkets.

Phytosanitary standards are another area in which the rules and procedures differ markedly between countries. Sometimes these sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) requirements can appear disproportionate to the risks involved, at which point they become barriers to trade. A number of import controls which are reported to the WTO[17] by implementing countries, involve phytosanitary issues. These may also become the focus of trade disputes.[18] Between 1995 and 2000, it is estimated that nearly 270 SPS measures were introduced against imports of fresh fruit and vegetables.[19]

The combination of tariff concessions extended to developing country and LDC exporters of fruits and vegetables, by the EU and the US in particular, and the seasonal nature of those tariffs that remain, would indicate that import tariffs are unlikely to represent the major barrier to exports. This is a view that is supported by the literature reviewed in Section 5. A potentially more significant constraint to exporters is the phytosanitary controls and the private standards imposed by the global retailers.

[14] For the purpose of this analysis, horticulture is taken to include fruit, vegetable and cut flower production. The latter is sometimes referred to under the separate production category, floriculture.
[15] FAO. 2002. Agricultural commodities: profiles and relevant WTO negotiating issues. Commodities and Trade Division, Rome.
[16] During the last two years, Nigeria increased the tariff on apples and pears from 40 percent to 75 percent, whilst Morocco imposed a 7 000 tonnes tariff quota on bananas, with initial out-of-quota tariffs of 150 percent. The Philippines resorted to special safeguard measures (SSGs) to protect its domestic onion industry. The government of Thailand continues to operate a very small tariff quota for fresh potatoes, just 300 tonnes, with out-of-quota duties of 84.9 percent. In 2002, the Philippines imposed a temporary ban on all vegetable imports, to try to curb the alleged flood of lower priced vegetables from elsewhere in the region (Foreign Agricultural Service, GAIN Reports, USDA, 2001 to 2003).
[17] The WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) requires countries to: (i) base SPS measures on science; (ii) look at different measures to achieve equivalent safety outcomes; and (iii) allow imports from distinct regions in an importing country when presented with evidence of the absence or low incidence of pests and diseases.
[18] For example, the EU has recently questioned the legality of Australia's quarantine system citing, in particular, delays in outstanding requests for access to the Australian market for several products, including citrus fruit and tomatoes. The Mexican government also raised objections to the United States' general ban on the import of cantaloupe melons at the start of the Mexican export season in October 2002, describing the ban as "an unjustified restriction .... and inconsistent with the SPS Agreement [of the WTO]".
[19] Roberts, Donna and Krissof, Barry (2001).

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