From producers, to traders, to regulators and consumers, the impacts of international trade regulations are felt all along the value chain. Understanding how a reliable and trusted regulatory framework feeds into all aspects of food security and safety is key to ensuring smooth trade in agricultural products.
In the interview conducted by CropLife International, experts from across the international trade landscape gave their perspectives on the vital role international regulatory standards play in facilitating trade and why reliability and science-based policy-making are fundamental.
This part is the interview with Juan José Pons, Coordinator of the Banana Cluster of Ecuador.
What is the Banana Cluster of Ecuador?
Juan José Pons: “The Ecuadorian Banana Cluster is a guild of banana producers and exporters of Ecuador. Our focus is: competitiveness, environmental and social sustainability, and generating favourable public policies that foster economic and social development. Currently, we represent 95% of Ecuador's banana exports and more than 65% of national production.”
Why is it important to minimize trade disruptions in bananas?
JJP: “The short answer is because trade is an instrument for rural development and empowerment of societies. The long answer is, it impacts the current situation of Latin American economies, especially as the region is suffering its worst economic crisis ever due to COVID-19.
“Our economies are in a critical situation. The system basically collapsed, and still, the Banana Industry of Ecuador is proud to say that it has not fired a single employee during this crisis. Now, more than ever, our countries need healthy productive industries to create employment (and pay taxes). Governments should not jeopardize their already difficult task of saving national economies and peoples' wages. This is why minimizing trade disruptions is really important today.
However, certain markets, such as the EU, are unpredictable regarding their market access. Any grower/exporter of any Latin American country should address their concerns directly to the European Institutions. We believe there is an information gap and policy makers do not know what we are going through in the field. We are cooperating with banana growers from other LatAm countries in coordination with EU stakeholders to maintain a dialogue based on scientific facts and objectives of social and economic development. We believe this should be the beginning of a stable EU-based platform for LatAm producers/exporters.”
What role do MRLs play in the trade of bananas and how does this impact banana producers?
JJP: “MRLs are key elements to guarantee both consumers' health and smooth international trade flow. Although they do not constitute toxicological safety limits – that is to say, that exceeding the determined amounts does not necessarily imply a risk to human health – they have become a commercial trading standard. This implies that MRLs are often used from a political perspective, with a growing tendency of becoming stricter. We regret that, more often than we would like, proposed MRLs respond to political agendas instead of scientific facts.
“Agrochemicals are fundamental to modern farming both for food security and food safety. In relation to banana production, Plant Protection Products are essential for fighting pests, pathogens and diseases and to deliver quality. Some pests are so dangerous that if a single sample is found in a container, the destination country has the right to send it back to its country of origin – they won’t keep it to even destroy it at their port.
“MRLs constraints are particularly tough for smallholders. They cannot fight plant diseases with the substances they have on hand, and this leads to decreasing productivity and quality. Nowadays, especially after the devastating effects that the coronavirus pandemic has had on all countries, but particularly in Latin American economies, politicization of access standards represents an even higher obstacle to rural development. Today it is harder than ever to find available efficient alternatives for producers.”
What can be done to improve the regulatory environment around MRLs?
JJP: “The short answer is that markets should follow standards set in the Codex Alimentarius (WHO/FAO). The long answer explains the rationale behind the Codex. Each country has different types of ecosystems, atmospheric and local conditions, economic factors and often there are differences within countries. This affects the way they farm, and therefore, regulations should adapt. Good Agricultural Practices vary from one region to another, and the Codex Alimentarius considers all these differences, setting international guidelines.”
“In addition – and we insist on this – standards should follow direct inputs from on-the-ground experiments and science-based facts adapted to each crop. This sector is mostly composed of small and medium producers; therefore, trade barriers may affect their main source of income. We believe that producers should be included in the decision-making process through discussions and open consultations, including more transparency in all these processes, in particular in debates around risk. Governments should elaborate on impact assessments before taking any decision and help those actors that do not have the means to gather necessary data. In short, every step of the chain must be included in this process, as it is a decision that affects us all equally.”
How important is science-based policy-making in the trade of bananas?
JJP: “Science-based policy-making is essential in all fields, but particularly in the sector of agriculture and food, including the trade of bananas. Basing policies on science allows policy makers to stick to the facts and take decisions according to evidence. This is the best way to protect consumers’ health. There are three main reasons why this is crucial.”
“First, science-based policy-making implies political independence and guarantees that no decisions are taken according to a specific ideology. Second, evidence-based policies are a resource in and of themselves, enabling better development of each stage of the policy cycle, from agenda setting, to policy formulation, implementation, evaluation, and monitoring. Finally, letting science lead the policy making process allows for better transparency and accountability. Science-led policy making constitutes a virtuous circle that can only enhance the implementation of policies on the ground.”
“Promoting science-based policy making is key if we are to avoid political agendas interfering in what we put on our dishes. In the case of bananas, this means consulting all stakeholders in the global value chain, and placing a strong focus on producers, who are the ones that work the land and have practical insight into what needs to be improved or changed.”