Senator the Honourable Calixte George
Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
at IICA SAQS Workshop
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, Good Morning
I want to commend IICA on this Agricultural Health and Food Safety initiative that is directed at “Strengthening Quarantine Services in the Caribbean”, and to thank the European Union for agreeing to fund this important initiative under its Caribbean Agricultural and Fisheries Programme.
Mr. Chairman, I note that the objective of this project is to increase the compliance with the World Trade Organization’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement and to improve the capacity of CARIFORUM member states to meet their obligations under the SPS.
The SPS Agreement
But what exactly is the SPS and of what significance is it to our region’s agriculture?
The SPS is one of several WTO agreements, and it arose out of a concern that the arbitrary imposition and application of unjustified sanitary and phytosanitary measures could be used to restrict international trade. The SPS Agreement, therefore, is intended to promote the establishment of a multilateral framework of rules and disciplines to guide the adoption, development and enforcement of sanitary and phytosanitary measures in order to minimize their negative effects on trade.
The SPS Agreement defines sanitary and phytosanitary measures as:-
Any measure applied to protect animal or plant life from pests, diseases, or disease causing organisms; or to protect human or animal life from risks arising from additives, contaminants, toxins or disease-causing organisms in their food, or to protect human life from plant- or animal-carried diseases; or to prevent or limit other damage from the entry, establishment or spread of pests.
The basic provisions of the SPS Agreement are that any SPS measures that may affect international trade must be necessary for the protection of animal, human or plant health, must be based on scientific principles, should not be maintained if their scientific basis no longer exists, and must be based on an appropriate risk assessment.
The foregoing demonstrates, therefore, that there must be a sound scientific basis for the application of SPS measures.
But, Mr. Chairman, in this new world that is dominated and dictated by multilateral trade agreements, the application of sound scientific principles is just one part of the equation. It is equally important for our CARICOM member states to develop the capacity to understand the various trade agreements and to make meaningful inputs into the negotiations that fashion and refine these agreements. On Monday and Tuesday of this week, my Ministry was engaged in an exercise with the IICA and the RNM n sensitizing public and private sector participants to he various elements of the WTO Agreement on Agriculture, the negotiations on the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), and the ongoing EU-ACP negotiations. What came out of that meeting is the realization that the persons most affected by these agreements are the ones least knowledgeable on them. Capacity building and public sensitization must, therefore, be of paramount importance to us. And this is why today’s meeting is so important.
Public and Private Sector Partnership
The meeting is also important, however, because it seeks to develop a partnership between the public and private sectors in the management of agricultural health programmes. Unfortunately, I can say with a high degree of confidence that the private sector is not au courant with the WTO SPS Agreement and its implications for agricultural trade within the region. While many St. Lucians know of the WTO because of the profound impact it has had on the banana industry, they are not aware of the nuances of the various trade agreements. They do not know of the significant impacts that the WTO is continuing to have on the market access of our export crops, or on our ability as a Government to provide support to our domestic agricultural sectors, or on our capacity to respond to competition from cheap imported products. They are not aware of the importance of the TRIPS Agreement and the possible long-term implications of our slowness in patenting or copyrighting our rich biological diversity. And they are certainly not cognizant of the fact that while we can make statements about the suspected poor quality of some of the meats that we import into our country, we are prohibited from denying entry to these products in the absence of a proper institutional framework with the appropriate laboratory facilities as well as the professionals viz. microbiologists, toxicologists etc. for analysis and interpretation.
Therefore, Mr. Chairman, we must first of all educate ourselves, then our private sector partners, so that we may make optimum use of our limited resources to respond to the challenges posed by trade liberalization. We may even wish to consider allowing elements of the private sector to perform tasks related to SPS that previously fell within the purview of the public sector.
For us to ensure that our ports are secured against the entry of harmful pests and diseases, we must obtain the full cooperation of agencies such as the Immigration Department, the Customs and Excise Department, the Ports Police, and the Ministry of Tourism. In recent years, St. Lucia’s agricultural sector has suffered from the entry of the Hibiscus Pink Mealy Bug, the Cassava Mealy Bug, the Varroa Mite and the Giant African Snail, to name but a few, and only last year, we were on high alert to prevent the possible entry of Foot and Mouth Disease and Mad Cow Disease (BSE). Our vital banana industry is on a constant vigil to ensure that the dreaded Black Sigatoka disease does not rear its ugly head in St. Lucia. To secure our sector from these pests, we must have strong and functioning quarantine services and a sensitized public. Too often the already difficult work of our quarantine officers is made almost impossible by uncooperative travelers and importers. While there has been significant improvement in the relationship with the latter in recent years, there is still room for improvement.
Ministry of Agriculture Initiatives
My own Ministry is in the process of establishing a port-based quarantine service that will allow us to have a more significant presence at our major air and sea ports. We have embarked on a project that will involve the establishment of port-based infrastructure, the employment of additional quarantine officers, and the training of all relevant stakeholders in the myriad issues impacting agricultural health and food safety. We are also working closely with the St. Lucia Bureau of Standards to establish national standards for meat and fish products, which is a prerequisite for the establishment of a national abattoir
Still Much to be Done
There is still, however, much to be done in the area of strengthening quarantine services and in the wider area of managing agricultural health, and I will briefly outline some of these requirements.
· Our legislation has to be updated and modernized, particularly the plant protection and animal health regulations, with proper monitoring and enforcement procedures put in place to ensure compliance.
· Our laboratories must be upgraded and accredited to meet the requirements of trade and public health.
· We must establish databases for imported and domestic foods, farm animals and their disease status, and the pest and disease status of crops.
· Our officers must be trained further in animal disease risk assessment and pest risk analysis.
· The confusion that exists over jurisdiction in veterinary public health issues must be resolved, with the Livestock Services Division given the mandate to inspect meat and certify local and export products.
· An emergency action response plan must be developed to allow the sector to respond effectively to an emergency situation caused by the entry of a pest or disease of economic importance, and
· We must intensify our training programmes for farmers, exporters and the general public.
Mr. Chairman, I wish to end by once again expressing my Ministry’s sincere appreciation for the timely initiative of the IICA in commissioning this project. My Ministry pledges to cooperate fully with IICA in executing the project, which we are confident will redound to the benefit of the agricultural sector.
It gives me great pleasure to declare this Workshop open.
I thank you.
November 6, 2002
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