Wednesday, February 16, 2011

COMESA Establishes Regional Laboratory Centres for Food, Animal and Plant Health

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, (COMESA) has procured equipment to be used in three regional laboratories meant to enhance Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) requirements. This is part of efforts by the regional bloc to establish SPS regional reference laboratories. The three laboratories are the Central Veterinary Research Institute for Animal Health in Zambia, the Food Technology laboratory for food safety of Mauritius and the Plant Inspectorate Service for Plant Health of Kenya.

This has been revealed by Dr Chungu Mwila, Director of Investment Promotion and Private Sector Development (IPPSD) at the COMESA Secretariat. Dr Mwila was speaking at the opening of the national training workshop for Zambia on SPS held in Lusaka from 12th to 14th January 2011. The training was co-organised by COMESA, the Zambian Government and the African Nations in Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standard Setting Organisations Project (PAN-SPSO).

Dr Mwila pointed out that COMESA countries need to comply with SPS requirements in order for them to fully participate in the multilateral trading arena and also protect the lives and health of humans, animals and plants in the region.

“It is important to note that most African national fail to access international markets for their agricultural and food products mainly because of non compliance with SPS requirements.

SPS standards are a major part of the international trading regime and we need to conform to these rules if we are to occupy our rightful position in the international trading area,” Dr Mwila pointed out. He added that the harmonization of SPS measures in the COMESA region is hampered by several factors which include insufficient human resources capacities, insufficient institutional capacities, incompatible legislation, regulatory, inspection and certification systems. Other factors are insufficient dialogue among the relevant SPS authorities in the various Member States and inadequate participation of Member States in international fora that deal with SPS matters, particularly the standard setting processes.

It is for this reason that COMESA is working to assist Member States ensure that the SPS measures they implement conform to agreed regional and international standards set by the World Organisation for Animal Health, International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) and Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC).

COMESA and PAN-SPSO have teamed up and help Member States develop their capacities in SPS. After the training, it is expected that African countries will be strengthened to empower national SPS offices for effective participation in SPS standard setting activities, strengthening of a common position in SPS by African nations and at the level of Regional Economic Groupings (RECs). The technical capacity of African countries to draft standards and develop science-based arguments will have been strengthened.

So far, COMESA has trained close to 150 SPS experts in Member States at different levels in order to form a nucleus of SPS experts in the region, helping to establish the three regional labs, sensitising stakeholders at national level and adopting SPS regulations which were done in December 2009 by the COMESA Council of Ministers.

International Standards for SPS Measures are the standards, guidelines and recommendations recognized as the basis for application of SPS measures by members of the World Trade Organisation.

COMESA and PAN-SPSO are conducting the training in eight COMESA Member States namely: Democratic Republic of Congo, Comoros, Eritrea, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Seychelles and Zambia.