AFRICA – Experts have advised Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) members states to invest in food safety, animal and plant health to increase market access for agricultural produce.
According to the experts, animal and plant health measures, also known as sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS), have largely received low investment because governments in the COMESA region assume this is an area for the private sector, reports the East African.
Kigyego Cheluget, COMESA assistant secretary general said lack of investment into SPS affects regional trade and contributes greatly into costly continent’s importation of agricultural produce worth $35 billion.
According to Dr Cheluget, the failure to harmonise SPS measures has led to creation of trade barriers between countries due to differing standards.
He says that this also presents a barrier for the COMESA countries to access some high value markets like the EU and the US.
Martha Byanyima, the head of COMESA sanitary and phytosanitary, said some markets have been blocked because there are no harmonised standards that can be followed in case of an audit.
She highlighted the case of South Africa, which does not import many agricultural products from the rest of the continent.
“South Africa is a big market that is not trading with COMESA because they don’t trust partner states’ practices,” she said.
Ms Byanyima proposed an investment into a reference laboratory system that would ensure food, plants and animals traded across COMESA member states are safe and standardised, a measure that could open up COMESA into other markets.
Currently, out of 21 countries Only Kenya exports its avocados to South Africa and other countries in Asia and Europe due to standardisation through the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS).
Uganda largely exports fruits and vegetables to East Africa and Africa, with Kenya and Rwanda among the major destinations.
COMESA launched the Prioritisation of SPS Investments for Market Access (P-IMA) programme aimed at strengthening the management of SPS measures in the region of which Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda are set to benefit from.
In the five-year programme, COMESA has partnered with the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF) and Trade Mark East Africa towards mainstreaming P-IMA.