Lusaka, Monday, February 27, 2017: COMESA is spearheading studies to examine the actual costs of plant health measures that are in place in the region and how they can be reduced, without affecting the level of protection that they are designed to provide.

Acting Secretary General of COMESA Ambassador Kipyego Cheluget says some of the reasons why intra-regional trade is lower than it could be is because the costs of these non-tariff measures, including Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards (SPS) or biosecurity, are higher than they need be.

Ambassador Cheluget was addressing the 4th Network workshop of the Australia-Africa Plant Biosecurity Partnership (AAPBP) in Lusaka, Zambia. The initiative brings together 10 states in the eastern and southern African region and Australian biosecurity experts to address critical plant pests and diseases by strengthening the skills and capacity of professionals in African plant biosecurity agencies and institutions.

Amb Cheluget observed the presence of pests and plant diseases in the region was the cause of some of the persistent non-tariff barriers that impede smooth trade in the region and beyond.

“In fact, some of the SPS measures we apply to intra-regional trade might not even reduce the risk of plant diseases at all, so my hope is that the studies will not only reduce the costs of trading, but improve the management of risk,” he said.

Noting that some of the national experts in the meeting were involved in the study, Ambassador Cheluget urged them to carry on and implement the recommendations that will emerge from the exercise.

The AAPBP initiative is the result of representations from African stakeholders to the Australian Government who noted that the world-class strength, experience and comparative advantage of Australian biosecurity agencies could be leveraged to enhance African plant biosecurity capacity.

The initiative also responds in part to areas identified in a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2014 between the Government of Western Australia and COMESA to cooperate in biosecurity.

National Plant Protection Organizations (NPPOs) from Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania are taking part in the one network meeting.  It is led by Australian experts and mentors, AAPBP Senior Fellows, and resource persons from Africa covering areas of surveillance, emergency response, seed-borne diseases and monitoring and evaluation.

Addressing the participants, the Permanent Secretary in Ministry for Agriculture of Zambia Mr. Julius Shawa stressed the need to protect agricultural production and trade from the threats it faces from pests and diseases as it was a major source of import revenues.

“Plant biosafety activities play a pivotal role in ensuring safe agriculture that is compliant to international standards,” he noted adding that the threats of pests and diseases in Agriculture has grown due to climate change and weather variability.

He thanked COMESA for spearheading the formation of SPS as they have helped enhance the biosecurity in agriculture trade.

The General Manager, Global Programs, at the Australia Centre for International Agriculture Research – ACIAR, Mellissa Wood said a health and competitive agricultural sector requires improved farm to consumer marketing, trading and biosecurity systems.

“An efficient and effective plant biosecurity system is a critical enabler of enormous opportunities for boosting regional and international trade in agricultural products,” she said.