Sunday, July 28, 2013


World trade on fresh produce has been facing some problems as standards and specifications adopted by different countries were in conflict many times creating trade logjams upsetting the business system as a whole. It is always the case that buyer is supreme and the supplier has the responsibility to meet the contractual obligations entered into before striking a deal. Disputes, differences and misinterpretations invariably mar such trade deals and fresh produce being highly perishable cannot afford to be delayed during shipment. The Harmonized standards acceptable to all countries will go a long way to avoid such unnecessary disputes causing trade disruptions. Also of significance is the cost of auditing and the burden it poses to small producers and exporters and it is here that the inspection needs to be simplified, streamlined and made cost effective. Here is a take on this important issue which is the focus of attention in some countries in the forefront of fresh produce marketing. 

"Experience has shown that more and more produce customers are requiring audits of their suppliers, including small and local suppliers, and that customers are realizing the costs of redundant audits are adding to their own costs, regardless of who pays for the actual audit. The broad acceptance of the Harmonized Standards by major produce buyers seems to show a road forward to meeting the industry's objective of reducing the audit burden without sacrificing safe produce growing and handling practices. Even while some buyers have restrictions on who can do the audits, having one checklist for all audits has to reduce the audit burden of differing standards. Further, the expectation is that buyers, seeing the same audit results from different audit organizations, will eventually accept an operation's existing audit results without requiring another, thereby further reducing the audit burden. When they see different audit results for the same operation, using the same standards, from different audit organizations, questions will come back to where they rightfully belong—the audit process—and the marketplace will begin to weed out the poor performers".

The dilemma of the buyers of fresh produce is understandable in the light of a series of food poisoning episodes involving such simple commodities like spinach, water melon, tomato etc and with the traceability burden becoming too heavy and uncertain buyers must be on alert regarding import of tainted commodities. Harmonized Standards, therefore will go a long way to address this intractable problem and world bodies like FAO and WTO must intervene to make them universally acceptable and practiced. There is a need to set up a trade dispute resolving mechanism that can settle differences quickly with least delay. Auditors need to be accredited after careful evaluation of their credentials and the cost of auditing must be brought down to affordable levels. Will this happen in the foreseeable future? Probably the world seems to be moving in this direction and a cooperative regime involving industry, governments and international bodies can make the world much more safer vis-a-vis the consumers.


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