1 July 1991
Honourable Delegates and Observers;
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is indeed a great pleasure for me to welcome you, on behalf of the Director-General of FAO, Mr Edouard Saouma and the Director-General of WHO, Dr. Nakajima, to the Nineteenth Session of the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission.
This meeting of the Commission comes at an opportune time. Four years ago, when the Director-General addressed you, changes were being initiated so that the Commission would be able to better respond to the challenges of the coming years. Little did we know at that time just how great these challenges would be, or that they would indeed lead to priorities for the first decades of the next Century. I speak, of course, of changes in world trade and political and economic systems, as well as the ambitious programme outlined in the course of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations for the harmonization of national regulations relating to Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and Barriers, and the fact that the negotiations have agreed to give a central place in the food field to the Codex Alimentarius standards and other guidelines in providing the scientific basis of this programme. Other challenges related to improving nutritional status of all populations, making foods more nutritious and accessible to all are to be addressed by the FAO/WHO sponsored International Conference on Nutrition which will be held in Rome in December 1992. The outcome of this first intergovernmental conference on nutrition on the global level would have many implications for future Codex work.
IMPLICATIONS OF THE GATT URUGUAY ROUND
The Uruguay Round is not yet completed and there are tough questions that still need to be satisfactorily resolved. However, there is a broad consensus on the objectives of the Round insofar as sanitary and phytosanitary regulations are concerned. This is not to say that there may not be a few surprises. There is the need to address the fears of those consumers who feel that the liberalization of trade in agricultural and food products could lead to a lowering of national standards and thus pose a threat to public health. It is therefore necessary to clearly explain that Codex standards provide adequate consumer protection when properly applied, and that national standards whose increased strictness cannot be justified scientifically do not truly offer greater protection to the consumer, but can be and are used as barriers to trade. One of the new concepts to arise from the Uruguay Round is that of recognizing the equivalence of different food control systems. Although actions taken to control the safety of foods in different countries may differ in detail because of their different administrative systems and climatic conditions and agricultural practices, systems can be equivalent provided that these different approaches result in foods of undoubted safety and good quality. Only such a system based on the principle of equivalence can ensure that the rich variety of the world's food production is accessible to all.
ENSURING THE RESOURCES TO MEET NEW CHALLENGES
How is the Codex Alimentarius Commission to meet these great challenges now, and to ensure that it retains both the flexibility to meet new ones while continuing its reputation for scientific soundness and rigor. Certainly, from a technical point of view your deliberations in the next 10 days will show the way. But there are other, and even greater obstacles to be overcome in achieving the reality of a truly effective Joint Food Standards Programme. FAO, which provides some 83 per cent of the Programme's resources, continues to face a severe financial crisis. Nonetheless, the FAO Conference in November 1991 will be requested for the biennium 1992/93 to maintain the Codex Programme at a level similar to that of the current biennium, and to approve an increase in the resources for the Food Quality and Consumer Protection Programme to strengthen the FAO/GATT/Codex cooperation. But even these positive steps could be threatened unless all Member Governments pay their assessed contributions in full and promptly. Regrettably, the recent experience on this score leaves much to be desired. If FAO has to operate with insufficient funds due to some Member Governments failing to meet their obligations, even programmes of high priority such as the Codex Alimentarius cannot be implemented efficiently and effectively.
There are other challenges facing the Commission in the 1990's. The main body of the Commission's work over the past 30 years, its standards and other guidelines to member countries, has still not received the recognition it requires in terms of formal acceptance by governments of Codex Standards. There have been several reasons put forward to explain this anomaly, even though it is generally recognized that the Codex work is invaluable to world trade. In order to improve on this situation, the FAO/WHO Conference on Food Standards, Chemicals in Food and Food Trade has recommended simplification of procedures, more transparency in decision-making, and simplification of the standards themselves so that they retain essential elements, while eliminating unwarranted sanitary and technical barriers to trade. The Conference also recommended that the Commission adjust its procedures in a way which would make the process of standards setting more responsive to the urgent needs of governments, consumers and the food trade and industry. This is one of the challenges facing the present session of the Commission: to take the hard decisions to move ahead and simplify some of the complex Codex procedures which can impede progress and strengthen overall Codex clarity and effectiveness.
Another challenge is to take clear, practical decisions which have relevance to trade within the context of consumer protection. In this regard, the Commission must be aware of new trends and developments, and be ready to apply them to its needs. Many countries, particularly developed countries, have realized that placing exclusive emphasis on the inspection of foods at the point of import or export, or of sale, is not the most productive technique. Control of the food process, from the point of harvest or slaughter, to the time that the food reaches the consumer is essential. But this control cannot be carried out by government alone. A strong reliance must be placed on food producers, processors and shippers to institute adequate quality control systems to assure food quality and safety throughout the food chain, with government regulatory authorities playing the role of controller and monitor to assure that quality control procedures are adequate. Only in this way can we reach the point where mutual recognition of the competence of import and export control authorities can be attained. This can also lead to harmonization of the certification process, which is a new area of thought in the food field, but one which has been successfully studied and applied by many non-food industries. It has the potential to become an even greater facilitator of trade than the establishment and acceptance of standards. The total quality assurance concept embodied in this process provides greater assurance of safety to consumers and minimizes processing losses and costs. FAO and WHO agree that the Codex Alimentarius Commission should study the implications of agreeing on internationally harmonized guidelines for the application of this concept.
It is true that the burden of meeting the new challenges facing the Commission will fall heavily on the Commission's subsidiary bodies. Codex Committees, generously hosted by Member countries, may find that their work loads will increase dramatically, and that there will be a greater demand for precision and rigour in arriving at final recommendations. I invite these Committees to exploit their relative advantages in their areas of competence, and establish clear objectives as ways of providing clear and precise recommendations to the Commission and governments.
INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON NUTRITION
Mr. Chairman, access to a reliable, safe and nutritious food supply is a basic need for all people, and ensuring the safety and nutritional value of foods is one of the essential themes of FAO's mission. The International Conference on Nutrition, organized jointly by FAO and WHO and to be held here in Rome in December 1992, is a concrete expression of FAO's commitment to these goals. The Conference will examine all aspects of nutrition and their implication for both developing and the developed nations. It will include in its discussions the question of food quality and safety and the protection of food against contamination and losses and the role of Codex will receive a great deal of attention. Preparations for the Conference are underway: Governments have been invited to nominate national Focal Points to draw together the views of the different national sectors working in wide-ranging aspects of nutrition. Special emphasis is being placed on government inputs at the national and regional levels through country papers, seminars and regional and sub-regional workshops. Non-governmental organizations are being invited to participate in the preparations and in the Conference itself. Unfortunately, although FAO and WHO have guaranteed funds to ensure the successful holding of the Conference itself, the preparatory activities at national and regional levels will be dependent on extra-budgetary resources, which we are currently actively seeking.
ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF THE CODEX ALIMENTARIUS AUSTRIACUS
Mr. Chairman, as the delegates know, for many centuries societies have taken action to protect crops from losses both qualitative and quantitative, and to protect food from spoilage in order to maintain its nutritive and commercial value. Societies have also recognized that the fraudulent adulteration of food has negative social and economic consequences. One hundred years ago, in October 1891 to be precise, a decision was made in Vienna to establish a Codex Alimentarius Austriacus which would seek to protect the legitimate interests of consumers and establish uniform principles for testing and evaluating foods for safety. This idea of codified food standards was the forerunner of today's international Codex Alimentarius Commission. Thus FAO congratulates the far-sighted Authorities of Austria on the centennial anniversary of the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus.
Mr. Chairman, the current session of the Commission is the last one in which we will see you guiding the deliberations of the Commission. The Rules of the Commission require that new officers be elected at this session. You have been associated with the Commission for very many years and have held the office of Vice Chairman on three separate occasions, over a period of 10 years before being elected to the high office of Chairman - the first ever Chairman of the Commission from a developing country. You have carried out your functions with enthusiasm and with dignity, and you have presided over a period of great significance to the history of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which has seen Codex Standards recognized as instruments for world development. On behalf of the Director-General of FAO and the Director-General of WHO as well as on my own behalf, I take this opportunity to congratulate you on your achievements, and the other Members of the Commission who have supported you in achieving this accomplishment.
Mr. Chairman, I wish you all success in the deliberations of the Commission in the days ahead. Thank-you.
Mr. Assistant Director-General,
Thank you for your kind words. It is indeed a pleasure for me to be back in Rome at the FAO Headquarters for this Nineteenth Session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission.
This Session is of special significance for me as it will be the last one in which I shall serve as Chairman of the Commission. I had the honour of being elected Chairman four years ago in this very hall and so have always been aware and proud of belonging to our large Codex family. I first participated in a Commission session 25 years ago. However my chairmanship has, as you mentioned, taken place during a highly interesting and significant period for the Codex Alimentarius. Not only have we seen a move towards the use of Codex standards in the discussions of the Uruguay Round of the GATT Negotiations and the International Trade in Food, we have also witnessed an increased participation on the part of the developing countries in the Codex - clear evidence of its important role for both developing and developed countries.
The Commission's work has been particularly important in the Codex Regional Committees. Their meetings have provided national delegates with an excellent opportunity to understand the benefits of using Codex standards in national legislation and in food import and export requirements and have enabled them to understand how it operates at both the national and regional levels. There has been active participation in the Commission's decisions and opportunities to voice regional and national standpoints. I have been able to attend virtually all the Coordinating Committee meetings during my terms of office and have been gratified to note how these have served to promote the Codex World-wide.
I am particularly proud that during my chairmanship a developing country -my country, Mexico - has for the first time hosted a Codex Committee - the Committee on Tropical Fresh Fruits and Vegetables - and that, even in its short existence, standards have been formulated for adoption as standards recommended during this Session of the Commission. Countries from all the regions have participated in the work of this Committee.
I have also witnessed the planning, development and completion of the extremely successful meeting last March of the FAO/WHO Conference on Food Standards, Chemicals in Food and Food Trade. I must congratulate FAO and the World Health Organization on their vision in having organized such a conference and I must congratulate the Secretariat on its magnificent effort in having accomplished this work in such a short time. FAO merits a special word for its recognition of this Conference and for its generosity in making these facilities available and providing interpretation and translation services. The Conference's recommendations will be discussed at length during this Session. In the Executive Committee we have already come to understand the forceful and dynamic impact that these will have on the work and future of the Codex.
Mr. Assistant Director-General,
Another important development to have taken place during these last four years has been the progress made within the Uruguay Round of the GATT Negotiations regarding sanitary barriers to trade - of major interest to the countries represented here today. You yourself have underlined what this means for the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Progress within GATT has been mirrored by the increase in free trade treaties in different parts of the world. Many only consider trade flows towards Europe, but such treaties are in operation or are under consideration for negotiation in Asia, the South-West Pacific and America. I have had the chance to participate in the free trade treaty between Canada, the United States of America and Mexico and in the Cono Sur treaty between Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile. We cannot deny the importance of the Codex standards and of the pesticide maximum residue limits in these areas. They represent our common means of communication - our universal language.
The Uruguay Round has emphasized the sanitary or health aspects of the Codex standards and the Conference which took place here in March put forward recommendations which will highlight this aspect in the work of the Codex. However, Dr. Dutia, there are many Codex standards which contain additional information on the quality characteristics that a product should possess to be accepted by purchasers on the world market. Though these characteristics are not always considered part of the national regulatory requirements, they are more than descriptive models of market agreements between buyer and seller. The opening of trade must take into account the quality descriptions of marketed products, even if only to protect the purchaser and the consumer from fraud due to inadequate labelling. There is a need for identity standards for certain kinds of products as these give a degree of legitimacy to, or a recognition of the importance of, the trade of these products. The recognition of the commercial validity of the standards for fresh tropical fruits and vegetables being placed on the international market is seen as an instrument for market development. Our positive experience has been precisely the case of tropical fruits and vegetables and there are many such cases. This important Codex information is vital to developing countries and should not be lost as we draw nearer to so-called simple horizontal standards.
Standards, Mr. Assistant Director-General, though well accepted, are not sufficient for us in the developing countries to understand the benefits of the Uruguay Round or the free trade treaties. I know that FAO and WHO have been particularly active in promoting the use of Codex standards in both the domestic and external food market by reinforcing the food control programmes, the certification services and the establishment of networks and related training centres. These are extremely welcome farsighted activities which benefit the consumers in industrialized countries as they find a greater variety of high-quality and safe products from our countries in their supermarkets. Dr. Dutia, I am aware of the support that FAO has given to the Latin American region to guarantee the quality and safety of our export products and of foods sold in the street and offset the regrettable cholera epidemic that has broken out. We should like you to thank Dr. Saouma, on our behalf, for his action.
Mr. Assistant Director-General,
You kindly informed us of the International Conference on Nutrition and we recognize the importance that both FAO and WHO have attached to this. Man has always sought to meet his nutritional needs by facilitating the purchase or sale of domestic and imported foods which meet recognized quality and safety standards. This extends from making food available where most needed to convincing the most demanding consumer of the possibility of obtaining safe and nutritionally balanced food through normal distribution channels. There are sometimes enormous imbalances in the pursuit of these goals. I believe that the International Conference on Nutrition will provide you with an opportunity to attract the attention of our governments and to provide them with action plans to fulfil this objective. I can assure you that the Codex Alimentarius Commission - with its implicit interest in nutritional quality, information and safety - will be at your disposal for any assistance you may need.
Finally, Mr. Assistant Director-General, I should like to express my personal gratitude to FAO and to Dr. Saouma for the continuous and strong support given to the Codex programme despite the difficult times the Organization has been going through. I am extremely pleased not only to have led the Commission during these interesting years but also to have been Chairman at a time when its work has received universal recognition. I give due credit to my predecessors and their work - I thank them and I thank the Secretariat for its invaluable and efficient help. These four years have provided me with many friends and have been an unforgettable experience.
I take this opportunity to promise you my full and continuing support. Thank you.