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Fran Freeman to Chair first committee session in Brisbane, Australia


Ahead of the Codex Committee on Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification Systems (CCFICS) meeting that opens next week in Brisbane, Australia, new Chair Fran Freeman spoke to Codex.

Q. Many in the Codex world may not know you as you lead the upcoming CCFICS session for the first time. Can you tell us something about you?

Fran Freeman

Having spent most of my career working on domestic and international issues affecting Australian agriculture, I am acutely aware how important it is for international cooperation and rules based systems to guide what we do.

I currently head up Exports Division in the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. Some of my previous experience includes being Minister Counsellor (Agriculture) at the Australian Embassy in Washington, DC for 3.5 years including participating in the AUSFTA negotiations. I have also been responsible for the department’s multilateral trade area covering WTO SPS and Agriculture committees, OECD, FAO and APEC matters, including being Chair of the OECD Joint Agriculture and Trade Committee and Chief Economist, Agriculture and Trade, at the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE)

I have a bachelor degree in Agricultural Economics from the University of New England and have twice been named in Australia’s Top 100 Women in Agriculture.

Q. Australia has led this committee since its inception in 1992. Why is this area of Codex so important to Australia?

Australia strongly believes in the work of CCFICS. As a member of our vibrant, interconnected global community Australia is fortunate to be both a supplier and importer of various agricultural and food commodities. Indeed Australia’s multicultural society, has driven an explosion of divergent, but delicious, food choices which rely on ingredients from here and all over the world.

We are acutely aware however, that for other countries, the trade in agricultural and food commodities is integral to ensuring food security for their citizens. The important work of this committee helps to facilitate that trade by creating the framework and guidance for efficient and transparent inspection and certification systems. As a global citizen and a trading nation it is for these reasons that Australia places so much importance on the work and outputs of this committee.

Q. In March of this year you spoke (following the working group in Scotland) of work in the committee progressing well. What do you hope to accomplish in Brisbane? In what shape will you be sending the work forward to CAC?

Work has indeed been progressing well, but it is still early days for both the guidance on regulatory approaches to third party assurance schemes and systems equivalence guidance. We have seen through the eWG and pWG process to this point that there is a lot of interest in these pieces of work. I certainly expect that to be the case this week, judging by the comments received!! My focus is on the committee delivering useful, practical guidance where consensus has been achieved.  I am sure that all delegates will work in that spirit. I am open minded about whether the documents will be ready to be progressed to Step 5. If they are, that is great. If not, we work hard over the next 18 months to move closer to the consensus we need.

Q. Was holding the working groups also “online” something you would like to see repeated and extended? 

I see strong potential for future “online” participation in Codex meetings. We are all under time and resource pressure so all mechanisms need to be investigated to ensure inclusiveness and transparency. The trial that CCFICS undertook has shown that online participation can work. Sure there are some challenges but with some clear guidance for Committees on the technology and arrangements required I think a way forward can be found. I have to say that I was extremely impressed by the dedication shown by some participants to work through their nights in order to participate via the online technology!

Q. What can we expect to see emerging from CCFICS following discussions on food integrity and food authenticity?

This is a good question as it is certainly a really topical issue. What has struck me is that this issue cuts across the work of many Codex committees and that the mandate of Codex (to ensure food safety and fair practises in the food trade) is just a component of the potential mitigation. I think this Committee can usefully further explore the specific work that CCFICS can do on the issue, potentially by reviewing/strengthening existing texts. The development of a specific work proposal would help shape the scope of the task and potentially provide some guidance to other codex committees.

Q. And finally. Why are you/Australia supporting a World Food Safety Day?

Australia is supporting World Food Safety Day because it is the right thing to do, and it is long overdue! All people, everywhere have the right to be able to access safe food so every bit of publicity and promotion we can bring to this cause via the proposed UN day is a really good thing. So my message to everyone is let’s support the adoption of a World Food Safety Day and then use it as a high profile vehicle to drive change in both awareness of the issues but also in regards to improved food safety outcomes around the world.