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Codex and the pandemic - strategic challenges and opportunities


Raj Rajasekar, Senior Programme Manager, Ministry for Primary Industries - New Zealand.

Raj Rajasekar, NZ Codex

The Executive Committee informal virtual meeting held on 12 May 2020 provided a timely opportunity to reflect on the impact of the current pandemic on the work of Codex and some of the strategic challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. COVID-19 has spread rapidly across the world since the beginning of the year has had a huge impact on the work of Codex and many other multilateral institutions. The immediate consequence of the pandemic has been the cancellation of meetings scheduled for the first half of 2020 with the prospect of further cancellations or postponements.

The priority of governments around the world has been to protect the health of their populations through strict border controls, travel restrictions - both within countries and across borders - and the enforcement of social distancing requirements.  In these challenging times remote working and the use of video and audio conferencing has become the norm to a level that none of us could have imagined even six months ago. The current movement and travel restrictions and uncertainties around when the pandemic will be brought under control are adding to the uncertainties for countries and international organizations like Codex.

Even in an optimistic scenario the current pandemic is likely to present considerable challenges for Codex. These include:

  • How to ensure that the momentum of work across committees is maintained against the background of significant disruptions to meeting schedules;
  • Constraints to physical participation in future meetings because of budgetary and other limitations including the likelihood of border restrictions and increased costs of travel;
  • How to ensure that new modes of working including virtual meetings are effective in advancing the commission’s work programme whilst consistent with its core values of inclusiveness, transparency, collaboration and consensus.

The new normal.

While the current challenges facing Codex may seem overwhelming the pandemic also presents opportunities for a strategic reassessment of meeting structures and processes against the background of significant technological advances particularly with regard to remote working and audio/video conferencing. While there will always be a place for physical meetings, it is clear even from the limited number of virtual meetings that Codex members have engaged in this far during the COVID-19 pandemic that new technologies could well be made to work for Codex. The work that New Zealand is leading in the Codex Committee on General Principles, on developing procedural guidance for committees working by correspondence, has acquired new relevance and its progression can greatly assist in providing procedural clarity and promoting greater uptake and confidence in alternative methods of working which may well become the ‘new normal'.

An ideal opportunity.

To facilitate further consideration of this issue, New Zealand has offered to prepare a discussion paper for the Executive Committee at its next meeting.  The current pandemic provides an ideal opportunity for Codex to embrace new ways of working, future proof the organization and ensure that it continues to fulfil its mandate, promoting international food standards for health protection and trade.


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Codex Committee on General Principles (CCGP)