Buenos Aires, 24 August 2021 (IICA) – The technical assistance program promoted by Argentina and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) kicked off with a virtual seminar on electronic health certification designed to improve the production capacity of the countries of the Caribbean and to strengthen food and nutrition security.
Civil servants, public sector professionals and private sector representatives from Argentina, Jamaica and Dominica participated in the event, exchanging experiences and discussing how to expand the implementation of ePhyto, an electronic sanitary certificate in XML format that contains all the same information as a paper document.
This is the first chapter of the South-South and Triangular Cooperation Program established through a Memorandum of Understanding signed last April by Felipe Solá, Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Worship of the Republic of Argentina, and Manuel Otero, Director General of IICA.
The objective is to share good agricultural practices developed in Argentina—a leading food producer and exporter—and to detect the problems on which farmers in the Caribbean, a region heavily dependent on food imports, must focus their efforts.
Argentina’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MAGyP) identified the areas in which the South American country is capable of sharing its strengths with the nations of the Caribbean. In turn, the National Agricultural Technology Institute (INTA) and the National Food Safety and Quality Service (SENASA) were in charge of the project’s technical design alongside professionals from IICA’s Argentina Delegation, the different Caribbean delegations and the regional coordination for the Caribbean.
Gustavo Martínez Pandiani, Director for Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico with Argentina’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, commented that this isn’t the first time the country and IICA have joined forces in a cooperation program with the Caribbean. “It wasn’t long ago that we worked to boost honey production in Barbados, Dominica, Saint Lucia and Saint Christopher and Nevis, with the innovative API-Caribe project”, he stated.
“We started this new program with humility”, he added. “We are doing it to share our successes, but also the challenges we faced. We intend to share how Argentina has been working, including our accomplishments and struggles”.
Argentina first implemented the ePhyto electronic health certificate over a year ago in its vegetable trade with Chile and today uses it for all operations with the country, explained Carlos Paz, President of SENASA. Since then, it has been applied to trade with United States, Sri Lanka and Costa Rica.
“The tool offers benefits to trade operations as it reduces costs and timelines and speeds up the release of merchandise at destination ports. We hope it extends to other countries”, commented Paz.
For his part, Santiago Bonifacio, Director of Cooperation and Bilateral Negotiations at MAGyP, underscored the opportunities these training and exchange events offer to generate innovative practices that can strengthen the countries’ food production.
“This project enhances the footprint of South-South and Triangular Cooperation. I’m convinced that, in the midst of this pandemic, we need more solidarity, more closeness and more technical cooperation. IICA is a bridge tasked with connecting countries and actors”, stated Manuel Otero.
“There is a huge difference between farming in Argentina and the Caribbean and that generates huge opportunities. Argentina has good practices. It can and must share them with the Caribbean, which faces food insecurity and is extremely vulnerable to climate change”, he added.
In that sense, Curt Delice, IICA Representative to Suriname and Coordinator for the Caribbean Region, advised that one of the biggest obstacles to increasing production and exports in the subregion is agricultural health and food safety and stressed the need to expand South-South Cooperation.
The seminar was divided into two parts. During the first part, technicians from Argentina, Jamaica and Dominica explained the progress being made in their countries to implement ePhyto. During the second part, private sector representatives described their own experiences with electronic certification.
Rodrigo Abad, Certification Inspector at SENASA, revealed that over 31,000 electronic certificates have been issued in Argentina for both exports and imports, a significant number given that the country totals approximately 150,000 certificates annually. Currently, testing is being undertaken to add Paraguay and Peru.
Damian Rowe, Plant Quarantine Inspector for Jamaica’s Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, thanked IICA for its work in helping the countries of the Caribbean on matters related to plant health and food safety and stated that his country is already using ePhyto for part of its food transactions with the United States and would like to expand its use to all transactions. “We have learned that electronic certification offers enormous benefits”, he said.
Nelson Laville, Director of Plant Protection and Quarantine for Dominica’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, explained that his country exports vegetable products primarily to other Caribbean islands, but also to the European Union and the United States. He added that food imports to Dominica normally go through the United States. Due to the restrictions imposed in response to the pandemic, the country expedited the implementation of electronic certification in 2020 and has thus far proven successful. “We understand its relevance not only to reducing the use of paper, but also as a risk management tool”, he said.
María Marta Rebizo from Argentina’s Chamber of the Oil Industry – Grain Exporters Association (CIARA-CEC), stated that their experience with electronic certification has been positive and advocated for its adoption in more countries. “The tool has worked well. It saves time and paperwork”, she said.
In turn, Jamaican export consultant Leecoy Coley, based in Montego Bay, revealed that she adopted electronic phytosanitary certification last January and has seen good results. “I know that change is hard, especially when it comes to technology, but this certification offers a number of benefits”.