Towards Formulating Common African Position
Globalization, mainly driven by international trade, has made food to be traded internationally in a reasonably short time through complex production and distribution networks. Although international trade in food has to an extent made some food cheaper, consumers have increasingly become more vulnerable to food safety hazards. Countries demand that food produced, marketed and consumed conforms to set standards in order to protect their citizens (consumer protection). However, such standards can become barriers to production and trade for several commodities where production systems and markets differ between countries. Despite this, food safety is important. The Codex Alimentarius Commission, established by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) in 1963 developed harmonized international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice to protect the health of the consumers and ensure fair practices in the food trade.
Fish trade benefits African countries through generating revenues, creating job opportunities and enhancing food security. The scale and value of these benefits depends on post-harvest handling and value-addition to products. Food safety and quality standards are important aspects that affect the volume and value of fish products accessible to regional and international markets. Coherent continental positions validated by scientific evidences will enable Africa ensure appropriate standards are set to facilitate the continent’s fish and fishery products have access to markets.
It is in line with this that, African Union InterAfrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR) through collaboration of the two projects; Participation of African Nations in Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standard Setting Organizations (PANSPSO) and Strengthening Institution Institutional Capacity to enhance Governance of the Fisheries Sector in Africa (FishGov) with funding from the European Union organized an Experts meeting in Nairobi, Kenya from 14-16 September 2015 to discuss and review the Codex reports as well as propose Common African Positions on issues of significance to the African region to be discussed at the 34th Session of Codex's Committee report on fish and fish products (CCFFP) scheduled for 19 – 24 October 2015 at Alesund, Norway. The meeting was organized in partnership with FAO/WHO Coordinating Committee for Africa (CCAFRICA).
The meeting was officially opened by Dr Raphael Coly on behalf of the Director of AU-IBAR, Prof. Ahmed El-Sawahly who welcomed the participants and emphasized the impact of presenting Common African position in international standards setting organizations (ISSOs) such as the Codex Alimentarius Commission among others. The Senior Fisheries Officer of AU-IBAR, Dr Mohamed Seisay, provided welcoming remarks highlighting the importance of enhancing fish trade and access to markets in the continent. These preparatory meetings, he noted, are crucial in assisting Member States of the African Union to participate effectively in the development of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) standards developed by international standard-setting organizations. The general objective of the meeting was to strengthen the interaction amongst Experts of the African region in the Codex Committee on Fish and Fishery Products to ensure adequate preparation for the formulation of Common African Positions, underpinned by science-based arguments, and the effective participation of Africa in the Codex committee in Norway.
A combined pool of six African experts on food safety and quality assurance for fruits and vegetables as well as in fish and fishery products provided the science-based inputs into these discussions in preparation for 34th Session of CCFFP. These comments reflected issues of significance to the African region resulting in the formulation of Common African positions in the global forum.
The main outcomes of the meeting were:
- Science-based comments developed on the proposed draft CCFFP standards and well-articulated for the 34th Session of CCFFP.
- Draft Common African (Regional) positions on issues of interest to AUC Member States under discussion in CCFFP developed by the Experts.
- Prepared for effective participation of all countries in the African Region in CCFFP.
The outputs from the expert shall form the bases of follow-up actions by the CCAFRICA Coordinator as indicated in the processes below:
- Circulation of the Recommended Regional (African) Position developed by the Experts to all Codex Contact Points in the African Union Member States on the continent.
- Collation of responses from Member States on the Recommended Regional Position with the view of harmonizing national positions to enable Africa present unified positions on strategic subject matters during the 34th CCFFP.
- Consultation with Member States to identify countries (Lead Speakers) that would advance issues in the regional (African) position during the plenary sessions.
- Convening of side meetings for CCAFRICA members present at the session to further discuss the Regional (Africa) Position with the help of some participants of the Expert meeting on Fish and Fishery Products, and also to strategize on new issues which may emerge during the plenary.