Antananarivo, Thursday, March 7, 2019: COMESA is developing a harmonized food safety regulatory environment and a credible quality verification infrastructure that will be trusted by the bloc’s trading partners. The initiative is financed under the European Union Development (EDF 11).
According to Secretary General (SG) Chileshe Mpundu Kapwepwe, this initiative will improve the quality and competitiveness of goods produced in COMESA.
Among the beneficiary States is Madagascar which is renown throughout the world as the primary source of high-end spices, but many of these products have yet to find their full potential as they lack external market access owing to food safety and regulatory requirements.
As a way of assisting the country overcome these barriers to trade, COMESA is addressing the sanitary and phytosanitary regulatory hurdles, through capacity building initiatives training.
Speaking at the opening of a National Workshop on Food Safety Regulation and Access to US Market training for producers and exporters in Madagascar, the SG said the intervention by COMESA is aimed at helping member States respond to new food safety regulations by the United States government that came into force in October 2017.
The training workshop in Antananarivo began on March on 4-6 March 2019. Similar trainings will also be rolled out to six additional Member States to ensure COMESA exports do not lose their competitive advantage in US markets.
Madagascar lost AGOA eligibility following the 2009 political crisis, and this led to a decline of its total exports to the U.S. AGOA eligibility was reinstated in 2014 and exports resumed. The Madagascar National AGOA strategy launched in April 2015, identified the following products as having great potential for export to the US market; Vanilla, clove, coffee, shrimps and prawns, prepared or preserved tunas and essential oils.
The SG told the workshop participants to not only focus on the requirements by the US food safety requirements, but also use the forum to share knowledge on the requirements of regional markets and other major markets such as the EU.
“The requirement for food safety management systems and the high costs associated with certification locks majority of SMEs in domestic markets. Export markets require procurement of voluntary third-party certification schemes, way beyond the means of local companies,” she said.
At the borders, she said, some of the SPS measures applied to intra-regional trade do not even reduce risk at all, but only serve to increase trading costs which consequently discourages cross border trade thereby depressing regional exports.
She said the region has since made great strides to harmonize the SPS and standard regulatory environment in a way that facilitates trade, supports industry growth, and increases the competitiveness of COMESA food and agricultural exports.