On Monday 20th March 2023, the World Trade Organization’s SPS Committee hosted a dedicated session on sustainable food systems and related emerging modern SPS challenges that might impact future agricultural trade. Freshfel Europe was invited to provide the fresh fruit and vegetables perspective on this matter. Fresh fruit and vegetables play an important role in contributing to environmentally, socially and economically sustainable food systems. Before embarking on new emerging challenges, Freshfel Europe underlined the need for WTO to first and foremost improve the current functioning of the SPS agreement for market access and the importance of global governance to ensure transparent and undisrupted trade flows.
The 12th Ministerial Conference of WTO in June 2022 urged the SPS committee to evaluate how the SPS agreement might need to be adjusted to cope with new challenges resulting from an expanding global population, climate change and increasing environmental challenges, shifting pressure due to the spread of pests and diseases and the growing importance of sustainable agricultural practices. Freshfel Europe was invited to the WTO’s SPS Committee meeting to reflect on how to facilitate global food security and more sustainable food systems, without putting trade at risk under “emerging modern SPS challenges”. Freshfel Europe’s General Delegate Philippe Binard presented the perspectives of the European fresh produce sector on those emerging modern SPS challenges but also urged the continued efforts needed to secure the effective applications of the current SPS agreement to facilitate international trade.
Fruits and vegetables play an important role in developing sustainable food systems. Mr. Binard stated: “Fruit and vegetables are essential goods given their low environmental impact and high health benefits. They are also part of the solutions to climate change and a range of socio-economic challenges. They are an important driver of economic growth and act as a preventative measure for certain non-communicable diseases. As such, fresh produce is essential for the success of EU strategies such as the Green Deal, the Farm to Fork or the EU beating cancer plan”. The position of fresh produce should be reinforced in all policies and to fully play its role, international fresh produce trade need to be facilitated.
Before embarking on broadening the scope of competence of the SPS agreement more needs to be done by the WTO to secure that the key principles of the WTO SPS and Trade Facilitation Agreements are adhered to by WTO members and more international standards are put in place to facilitate market access. Philippe Binard added: ”Although a clear definition of a sustainable food system is still not available, the fresh produce sector started its journey towards environmental, economic and social sustainability more than 20 years ago to respond to societal concerns and customer demand. This was done through clear steps such as innovative agricultural practices and precision farming, GAP certification and IPM techniques, private standards limiting PPP use and closely monitoring MRLs, and new guarantees regarding labour protection”. Sustainability primarily remains an asset to access customers rather than a market access issue. To ensure trust, comparability and transparency, sustainability must be measurable, and this is why Freshfel Europe has embarked on an environmental footprint project.
Finally, global governance is needed to address international challenges like climate change and issues relating to environmental sustainability such as water scarcity, biodiversity or soil protection. It is important to secure a non-distortive environment that allows for streamlining and facilitation of business sustainability endeavours. Mr. Binard concluded: “Sustainability should be enhanced by private and public governance to coordinate international standards, provide transparency and notification of rules, enhance best practices, assist developing countries to cope with new requirements and address market access challenges and growing protectionism through SPS barriers”. To ensure a well-functioning trade environment that supports sustainable food systems, policy coherence and transparency are essential, as well as the removal of undue SPS barriers creating trade distortions and delays. Fruit and vegetables are global, essential goods, and should be positioned as such in the journey towards a more sustainable food and trade system.
Note to the Editors: Freshfel Europe is the European Fresh Produce Association, representing the interests of the fresh fruit and vegetables supply chain in Europe and beyond. Freshfel Europe currently has over 200 members, including both companies and associations. For more information, please contact Joanna Nathanson at firstname.lastname@example.org.