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Latin America and Caribbean region pioneers new ways of working in Codex


In October 2019 the 21st FAO/WHO Coordinating Committee for the Latin America and the Caribbean region (CCLAC) was interrupted after only two half days of discussions as demonstrations in Santiago, Chile forced the hosts to suspend the session. The region agreed to continue working electronically to complete the agenda and this work has culminated in an online session for report adoption that took place on 11 May 2020 with over 50 participants from 20 countries.

Welcoming delegates to the online adoption, Ms Nuri Gras, Executive Secretary of the Chilean Agency for Food Safety and Quality (ACHIPIA) underlined Chile’s continuing commitment to the work of the region in developing standards. She said that at the end of this unexpected journey in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic “the countries of the region will have great challenges, the economy will be very significantly impacted and cooperation in the region will be more important than ever”.

The Chairperson of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, Guilherme da Costa, Brazil, said how much Codex depended on the work of its members. “The pandemic has had a direct impact on the entire production chain. It is vital that we continue our work and we will come out of this as a stronger organization”.

Diego Varela, Chairperson of the committee and International Affairs Coordinator at ACHIPIA said he hoped the experience gained by CCLAC in new ways of working together online could provide a valuable contribution to Codex in these challenging times.

Taking advantage of new tools

Pedro Friedrich, Codex Contact Point for Uruguay, described the online work as an “excellent experience, although the discussions were less dynamic than in a physical meeting, and the work was more extended in time”.  The current information and communication technologies provide Codex with a range of work tools, “which we must continue to take advantage of, and this was an example of what can be achieved with a good use of them”, he said.

CCLAC online report adoption

Rommel Betancourt, Diego Varela, Amanda Lasso Cruz and André Santos

“Impeccable and systematic work enabled countries to work topic by topic, giving the possibility to present country positions, reviewing the conclusions given by the Chair, issuing our support or observations to them and reaching a final consensus”, said Rommel Betancourt, Ecuador. “We know that there are technological limitations in certain developing countries, which must be taken into account, but the online experience has served as a model for the region and the Codex world”, he said.

André Santos, Coordinator of the Brazilian Codex Alimentarius Committee said it was important to learn from the difficulties of working online regarding planning and allowing time for national consultation and that attendance from countries was still an issue to be considered. “Personally, I am of the opinion that for some specific issues a physical meeting is important. But there are occasions where an exchange of positions in an online forum may be a way forward”, he said.

“As time goes by, physical participation becomes more complicated for countries and many will not have the necessary resources to participate in the upcoming meetings”, said Amanda Lasso Cruz, Costa Rica. “For a long time, many countries have suggested that Codex should take advantage of and make greater use of technological tools. I believe that circumstances have given us that excellent opportunity; these tools could give countries greater possibilities to participate in topics of interest”.

The process on the electronic platform prior to adoption suited Members who were given time to study the material and read other country's comments as well as receive input from local Codex committee members before responding. “Time to respond was the factor that made the process more accommodating and meaningful”, said Tandeka Barton, Guyana. “Efforts should be continued to perfect this medium of meeting because I can foresee that based on our current times, this may become the most effective way of meeting and communicating”, she said.

A head start in terms of online working.

“CCLAC had to quickly adapt to a new and unseen working environment. We have seen how the tools available facilitated the participation and the engagement of all Members and Observers involved in the meeting. The systems adopted by the Committee will now be shared with the entire Codex family and could possibly serve as an example for the ongoing discussions at the Codex Committee on General Principles (CCGP)”, said Giuseppe Di Chiera who managed the online process within the Codex Secretariat.

“We had excellent engagement from the region…two thirds of the members in the region registered for the discussions”, said Sarah Cahill, Senior Food Standards Officer in the Codex Secretariat. The way CCLAC has faced these new circumstances “has to a certain extent given us a head start in terms of online working”.

Changing the approach

This experience has shown that it is possible for Codex to continue at least some of its work in a virtual manner, but it cannot simply take the same approach used for a physical meeting and expect it to work in a virtual setting.  In order to be efficient there is a need to adapt the way information is presented, how discussions are structured and how the membership is engaged. “We were very pleased to have an enthusiastic partner in Chile in using these approaches as the Chairperson played a very critical role in ensuring the Members were engaged and felt their voices were being heard even though we were working in a virtual environment”, said Cahill.

A virtual Codex?

Codex Secretary, Tom Heilandt said: “Codex has been working increasingly virtual over the last 10 years and these pilots led to the discussions on working by correspondence now ongoing in the CCGP”.

In congratulating the whole CCLAC region Heilandt said the final push to a virtual Codex had arrived this year and may be followed by a virtual Executive Committee and a virtual Commission. “After that? We still feel that physical meetings will be important and necessary but maybe less than before. We will improve our tools and procedures and overall make sure that in whatever we do virtually our values of inclusiveness, collaboration, consensus building and transparency are upheld”.


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The final report will be published on the CCLAC meeting page

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