SOUTH AFRICA – South Africa has launched a system for online certificates developed in partnership with the government of the Netherlands, a game-changer for local and foreign inspectors who have to process fruit and vegetable exports.

South Africa now counts among the first nations in the world with an electronic certification system for the import and export of agricultural products. The country has already issued more than half a billion e-certificates.

“We are delighted to have reached this milestone within a short period of time and we also owe the existence of this system to our industry.

“We had extensive stakeholder consultations and ensured that there was awareness created and, therefore, a better opportunity to implement the painful process of change management with ease,” said Thoko Didiza, the Minister for Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development.

According to the department, the Netherlands through its Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority were among the first to introduce e-certification as an integral inspection clearance process for fruit and vegetables.

With South African citrus being in hot demand in the Netherlands, the country was deemed a strategic fit to jointly explore e-certification. Most of the phytosanitary certificates issued were for produce exported to this country.

According to Didiza, the e-certification process will not only help South African inspectors to save time during the inspection and certification processes, but be of equal value for inspectors in the Netherlands and other countries.

“With the new system, e-certificates will be received instantly. We note the advantaged position that we have assumed, as South Africa is one of the few countries in the world with a national electronic export certification system,” Didiza said.

The process started with a meeting between the government and fruit industry associations for imports and exports.

Paper system shelved

The export process of agricultural plant produce requires phytosanitary certification by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) National Plant Protection Organisation.

This process includes attestation by competent inspectors and represents guarantees to the importing country’s competent authorities.

A phytosanitary certificate accompanies a consignment to the port of entry of the importing country, and therefore acts as a passport for the product.

The South African export process requires routine daily issuance of a large number of phytosanitary certificates.

The introduction of e-certification by DALRRD enhanced the capacity of phytosanitary inspectors by freeing the significant amount of time they spent on issuing paper certificates.

The launch of the new system also means that South Africa has now officially done away with paper certificates. Certificates are now transmitted via e-mail to trading partners, who will validate these certificates via an e-certification tool.

This feature is said to have already reinforced the confidence foreign authorities have in South Africa’s products.

South Africa has also become the first African country to comply with European Union digital signature laws.

This paved the way for electronically sending certificates via the International Plant Protection Convention e-Phyto Solutions hub.

The hub is a centralized system to facilitate exchange of electronic phytosanitary certificates between National Plant Protection Organizations (NPPOs).

“In line with our commitment towards achieving the ideals of agenda 2063 of the African Union, South Africa commits to extending our experiences to assist fellow African countries to also join and have e-certification systems.

“This will also help us to broaden trade through the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, especially its annexure on sanitary and phytosanitary measures,” Didiza said.

More alliances anticipated

The country is also exploring another e-certification system for the export of animals and animal products.

This is currently being mooted by the Western Cape department of agriculture and expected to also be rolled out to the other eight provinces.

“We wish and anticipate to further collaborate with the Netherlands on the boarding of animal products for exports and the import of plants, animals and their products.

“We are also in discussions with the South African Revenue Services to interface our systems to derive benefits and better support South African traders in their import and export businesses,” Didiza explained.

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