Food trade is integral to social and economic development in most countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. The various trade agreements that have been established in the region involve the liberalization of food trade, In 1991, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay signed the Treaty of Asuncion, in which they agreed to establish the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), This market represents two-thirds of Latin America's total external trade, with a gross product of 448000 million dollars.
MERCOSUR member countries undertake to harmonize food standards and to identify and reduce technical barriers to food trade in the region, The four member countries examined the Codex Alimentarius standards and recommendations for the purpose of the MERCOSUR harmonization process. In some cases they adopted these standards, while in others they used the underlying principles as a springboard for discussion, introducing changes needed to reflect the situation, issues and existing resources in MERCOSUR.
Authorities and experts from the food industry and universities have become more aware of the relevance of Codex in facilitating food trade within MERCOSUR, particularly now that the World Trade Organization has recognized the Codex standards as a reference for its agreements on the application of sanitary and phytosanitary measures and on technical barriers to trade.
Debate has sharpened the attention of technical experts on the need for greater understanding of the Codex Alimentarius, for enhanced systems to disseminate Codex information in each country and within MERCOSUR, for stronger national focal points and for national committee structures that will bring together the authorities, experts from universities and centres of technology, associations of food importers and exporters and consumer groups so that they can pool their experiences and thus contribute towards standardization on a realistic and scientific basis. This heightened interest in Codex activities on the part of the four countries could provide a mechanism by which the experiences of these countries and of MERCOSUR can reach a wider audience and have a stronger influence on the setting of international food standards.