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V. Choosing and implementing
appropriate solutions to transboundary
pests and diseases


The trend of the past two decades is for local and national policies on transboundary pests and diseases to be guided by international standards, agreements and priorities. The risk assessments required under international obligations must still be based on local conditions. While the predicted risk for human consumption, for example, may be considered the same throughout the world, the probability of a pest surviving in a new environment varies from place to place, depending on climate, host availability and other factors.

Local participation, particularly in stakeholder consultation, is necessary for any successful project. There is an increasing number of area-wide programmes around the world, either to stop an incursion of an exotic disease or pest or to create a pest-free production area within an infested country and thereby open up new trade opportunities. In these cases, local policies and actions around the borders of the designated areas are as important as in national border zones.

There are many compelling reasons why countries should cooperate in their programmes against transboundary plant pests and animal diseases, either formally through regional organizations described below or informally through networking.

Neighbouring countries often have similar production systems as well as shared epidemiological and pest and disease risk profiles. Mutual benefits and cost savings are to be gained through joint preparedness planning. This includes cooperation not only in the preparation of contingency plans but also in activities such as training programmes, laboratory diagnostic facilities and international vaccine banks.

The rapid and frank sharing of information on disease occurrences and pest outbreaks and the harmonization of quarantine and disease control programmes, particularly in areas adjacent to common borders, are also of considerable mutual benefit. While these conditions have been achieved in some cases, and are progressing in others (e.g. through rinderpest eradication campaigns in Africa and foot-and-mouth disease eradication campaigns in Europe, South America and Southeast Asia), a lack of cooperation among countries in many parts of the world has been a major constraint to the successful control of transboundary animal diseases.

Existing agreements, institutions and programmes

International conventions, treaties and agreements have an impact on plant health and animal disease programmes in several ways. There are currently around 20 binding agreements at either the global or regional level, as well as a number of technical guidance documents and non-binding legal instruments.47 There are also numerous private organizations dedicated to providing information on the incidence of pests and diseases. Table 47 lists some of the most important agreements and regional or international bodies related to transboundary pests and diseases.

Table 47


International agreements/ conventions/ bodies

Objectives (in relation to transboundary pests and diseases)

Impact on transboundary pest and disease management

Contracting parties


  • International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC)
  • -Established 1952

  • To achieve common and effective actions in the prevention of exotic pest introductions and to promote appropriate and harmonized control measures
  • IPPC, including its mechanisms and Secretariat, provides a forum for discussion and dispute resolution in the area of plant health and develops international standards in support of national plant protection organizations
  • 114 contracting parties
  • Regional Plant Protection
  • Organizations
  • (RPPOs)
  • Nine established at
  • present
  • To coordinate actions among member countries
  • RPPOs share information and resources and provide a forum for discussion
  • Regional organizations range in size from 3 to 51 member countries


  • International Office of Epizootics (OIE)
  • -Established 1924

  • To promote international cooperation in the control of transboundary animal diseases
  • OIE provides information about disease outbreaks, coordinates studies and surveillance of disease, and harmonizes trade regulations in animals and animal products
  • 151 members


  • FAO Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES)
  • - Established 1994

  • To strengthen prevention and response to emergencies caused by transboundary pests and diseases that constrain food security, adversely affect public health or impede international trade
  • The primary activities of EMPRES are early warning, early reaction and enabling research. This includes surveillance to monitor vulnerable areas, preventive action such as training workshops, and convening expert groups to share information
  • 165 member countries


  • Montreal Protocol1 to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer
  • -Established 1987

  • To reduce the use of substances that deplete the ozone layer. This includes chemicals used to combat pests
  • Under the Protocol, methyl bromide, which is extensively used as a broad-spectrum post-harvest fumigant both preventively and as treatment against quarantine pests, is to be phased out of use
  • More than 150 countries
  • Convention on Biological Diversity
  • -Established 1992
  • Global Invasive Species Programme, under the Convention on Biological Diversity- Established 1997
  • To preserve global biological diversity in the form of both organisms and ecosystems
  • To coordinate the Convention's policy on invasive species through CABI, the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE)2 and the World Conservation Union (IUCN)
  • The Convention advocates a precautionary approach to alien species that may conflict with the IPPC's approach of pest risk assessment
  • 179 contracting parties


  • WTO
  • (formerly GATT)
  • -Established 1995

    Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures
  • (SPS Agreement)
  • -Established 1994

  • To lower tariffs and prevent the use of other trade barriers in order to facilitate free trade. Recent rounds have moved beyond that to seek fair trade and trade in safe products
  • To establish a multilateral framework of rules and disciplines to guide SPS measures and to minimize effects on trade
  • Deviation from international standards must be scientifically justified through a risk assessment process in order to avoid charges of unfair trade practices. WTO establishes a dispute mechanism and SPS standing committee to adjudicate on regulation of plant and animal health when it affects trade.
  • The standard-setting bodies are Codex Alimentarius, IPPC and OIE
  • 140 member countries

1 Full name: Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.
2 SCOPE is a committee of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU).

Private organizations and technical associations

The leading organization for biological control expertise and much of the taxonomic references in the field is CABI, with centres in the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Trinidad and Tobago. Although a private organization, CABI is led by its member countries through annual meetings and consultations.

Trade associations in each country are important contact points for gaining stakeholder support for prevention programmes, since industry is often a major beneficiary of such efforts.

In each area of expertise there are technical associations. Associations in plant pathology, for example, exist in many countries as well as internationally. A new Internet-based journal has emerged from this type of specialist interaction.

List servers, to which individuals can subscribe to receive messages concerning particular fields of specialization, have proliferated, as have relevant Internet sites. ProMED is a private initiative to establish a global programme for monitoring emerging diseases. The ProMED-mail electronic network was inaugurated in 1994 and is intended to enhance the access of developing countries to medical information.

Box 10


The Uruguay Round of trade negotiations was concluded in 1994, under the auspices of WTO (formerly GATT). The resulting Uruguay Round - or WTO - Agreements came into force in 1995, inaugurating an era of agricultural trade liberalization that affects farmers and agricultural policy in both developed and developing countries. One of those agreements is the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.

The objective of the SPS Agreement is to provide a framework for protecting human, animal and plant health and life, while preventing unjustifiable barriers to trade. Therefore, any exceptions to free trade in food and agriculture must be supported by scientific risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis. Countries are allowed the right to establish their preferred level of sanitary and phytosanitary protection but, in the event of a dispute, WTO will convene a panel to assess whether a specific measure is in compliance with the provisions of the SPS Agreement. If the measure is found not to comply, it will be required to be changed or compensation to a damaged party ordered.

It is not always a simple matter to distinguish between justified SPS controls and restrictions arising from consumer preferences or concerns. Developing countries sometimes believe that their inability to obtain access to developed countries' markets is driven more by the latter than the former. This perception is difficult to refute because the risk assessment process itself, which is a basic tenet of the SPS Agreement, is not fully established. The economic methods for defining appropriate socio-economic factors to be considered and for assessing effects on the environment have not been accepted by member countries.

Under Article 14 of the Agreement, developing countries were provided a reprieve of two to five years from the market access provisions. This period was intended to allow the creation and upgrading of mechanisms and provisions for meeting the requirements, without developing countries' agriculture sectors being damaged as a result of sudden competition. In 2000, the grace period expired for all developing countries. The main concerns that motivated this grace period are still valid, however: compliance costs are very high and developing countries' capacity to regulate is weak.

The so-called capacity gap refers to the inability of some countries to afford the expense and provide the expertise to participate in the WTO procedures. Many developing countries lack the capacity (legal and scientific) both to participate as full and equal partners in the open markets imposed by the WTO Agreements and to formulate and implement fully effective sanitary and phytosanitary regulatory systems. They view the SPS Agreement as a burden or obligation rather than an opportunity for participation.

The compliance gap occurs when countries do not fully comply with the requirements of agreements reached with other countries. The primary reason for non-compliance is insufficient resources and the result is an uneven application of the mechanisms called for in the agreements. In the case of plant and animal health, non-compliance on the part of some countries poses risks to other countries, with consequent strains on the Agreement itself. At present, even the largest and best-funded countries are not in full compliance with the SPS Agreement. Measures have been enacted without a full risk assessment or agreement on an international standard. This uneven application of standards leads to conflict over fairness issues, which weakens the effectiveness of the SPS Agreement.


The final and indispensable condition for effective management of transboundary pests and diseases is adequate funding and appropriate funding mechanisms. An important reason for the uneven application of sanitary and phytosanitary standards is the lack of resources that some countries have to implement effective control procedures. One of the functions of regional groupings is to try to overcome differences in ability to pay, where the actions of one country can impose costs on the others. Other reasons for cost sharing include shared benefits and economies-of-scale in control operations.

However, the incentives to cooperate are low, especially for non-exporting countries. This explains why some of the regional groupings operate better in theory than in practice. Typically, countries give higher funding priority to their national plant and animal health services than to cooperative associations. Countries have different levels of risk associated with pest and disease infestations and may resist contributing if they perceive other countries gain more benefit from the effort.

In the long term, the current imbalance in control capacities among countries can only be overcome if affected countries strengthen cooperation with one another. All countries recognize that effective control in a neighbouring country is as important as their own management efforts. However, current mechanisms for cooperation have suffered from weak financial and political support.

Emergency operations to protect crops against a desert locust invasion
The "public good" nature of transboundary prevention and control calls for collective action and funding at the regional and international levels

FAO/14241/G. Tortoli

In some cases of accidental introduction of a pest, the responsible government has voluntarily provided financing for eradication or control. This is negotiated bilaterally and is not required under international agreements currently in implementation. Donor agencies sometimes provide funding for a regional eradication programme or similar activities, such as eradication of the Caribbean fruit fly. Programmes to eradicate exotic species from protected areas or fragile environments or to carry out other plant health activities have also been financed through environmental initiatives, including the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

The EC has been at the forefront of maintaining a "polluter pays" standard in matters of plant and animal health risk. EC member states have a mechanism for recovering costs incurred as a result of the negligence of another member state in carrying out its duties in plant and animal health. The Convention on Biological Diversity may further define mechanisms for payment for liability by a government when a government's officials do not carry out necessary phytosanitary measures in the control of a new pest or, under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, control of a living modified organism released into the environment. The concept of legally binding liability is new in this field. It will be some years before the individual, legal entity or government that is responsible for an entry or outbreak will be paying for the costs of the negligent actions.

Questions regarding who should pay for which services also arise within the national setting. The financing of national programmes of quarantine, plant and animal inspection, pest and disease eradication and other sanitary and phytosanitary programmes is typically based on government funds. The economic rationale for public funding is elaborated on in other publications.48 However, some countries charge user fees to cover the cost of activities with clear beneficiaries. Costa Rica has achieved full cost recovery on plant health services, for example. Cost recovery through user fees is particularly common for export certification schemes, since it is quite clear who the beneficiary is and the activity is closer to market promotion, rather than risk reduction for the consumers in the producing country.

Another possible source of finance for plant and animal health is that of enforcement penalties or liability payments. Fines and penalties have not been consistently used as deterrents to lax compliance because the burden of proof prevents effective enforcement. However, with tighter government budgets, improved monitoring tools and greater demands on quarantine systems, this situation could change.

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