The Australian placement program of the Pacific Plant Biosecurity Partnership commenced on Monday 29 April 2019 at the Park Regis Hotel in Brisbane. This week was the first time that many of the Fellows had met each other to share their experiences in plant biosecurity and so began the strengthening of the existing network of plant biosecurity professionals in the Pacific region.
The purpose of Week 1 of the Australian program was to deliver a series of introductory lectures combined with a highly interactive market access simulation exercise to develop skills in pest risk analysis, market access negotiations and practical understanding of the international standards for phytosanitary measures. The training was delivered by Dr Sabine Perrone and Mr Bill Magee, specialist plant biosecurity consultants, to 19 Fellows, along with representatives from Kalang Consultancy Services, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR).
The background to the training was that improved skills to support market access for agricultural products has been identified in previous workshops as a key priority in the Pacific region. Building capacity to understand international standards for phytosanitary measures, analyse pest risks and develop appropriate risk management strategies will assist the Pacific countries in accessing export markets for its produce as well as managing risks around imports. This activity aligns with Australia’s strategic focus on generating sustainable growth and employment in the Pacific, which includes addressing constraints to increasing trade and investment. The program included interactive lectures in the morning sessions on:
the principles of plant biosecurity;
monitoring, inspection and surveillance;
control and eradication strategies
diagnostics and community engagement.
These sessions were a combination of lectures followed by open discussion on actual examples of these themes – in both the Australian and the Pacific context. The participation of Fellows from a wide range of organisations and diverse fields of expertise, was a constant reminder to all participants that achieving good biosecurity outcomes, for both imports and exports, requires cooperation and information exchange between regulators and commercial parties.
In the afternoon sessions, trainees worked together in four teams on a market access simulation exercise, which comprehensively develops skills in risk assessment, pathway analysis, application of phytosanitary measures and most importantly, negotiation of phytosanitary measures between trading partners. The market access simulation exercise drew directly on the technical content of the modules presented in the morning sessions. The exercise involved the risk assessment and development of phytosanitary protocols for trade in fresh tomatoes, tomato seedling, tomato seeds and various forms of processed tomatoes. This required the Fellows to study the pests associated with these different pathways of trade but most importantly to base their phytosanitary protocols on the relevant international standards set by the International Plant Protection Convention. The goal of the market access simulation exercise was to accurately simulate the complex negotiating environment between nations to resolve the biosecurity issues that prevent or restrict trade. Traditional training approaches for improved market access have been narrowly focused on the theory and principles of international standards, but have lacked any actual skills needed to negotiate commercially viable terms of trade. The market access simulation exercise offers an alternative to traditional training techniques by reinforcing the key elements of the international standards and then converting the theory into practice. The exercise also highlights the need to develop strong personal relationships necessary to support real market access negotiations in the future. Some examples of the key learnings from the exercise were:
Phytosanitary negotiations between nations require technically competent participants on both sides of the negotiating table;
All countries need to be mindful that the phytosanitary measures applied to imported plant materials should be those that are the least trade restrictive necessary to enable safe trade;
Other trade requirements such as tariffs, quotas, seasonal requirements or pesticide residues are not part of phytosanitary negotiations;
If agreed between the exporting and importing country, the presence of private sector commodity specialists can assist with market access negotiations;
Phytosanitary negotiations must remain very clearly focussed on the pathway of trade, (i.e. fruit, seed, live plants etc) and exclude any pests not on the pathway;
The SPS principle of equivalence must be foremost in the minds of negotiators and is fundamental to achieving commercially viable trade outcomes between nations;
Attention to detail in relation to specific pests, including knowledge of pest biology and supporting data for effective treatments, is crucial during phytosanitary negotiations.
Fellows provided positive feedback to the consultants at the conclusion of the training. Several mentioned that the group work added a lot of interest, energy and interaction to bring what would otherwise be a dry topic (international standards). It also converted the theory into a series of workable phytosanitary protocols – replicating actual bilateral negotiations. A more detailed and formal feedback survey has been completed by the Fellows.
In the Pacific context, it was notable that participants selected phytosanitary measures which reflected cultural practices combined with physical treatments to achieve a systems approach. Trade among Pacific nations lends itself to the use of a systems approach (combination of supply chain practices and simple but efficient phytosanitary measures such as washing and packaging. Several participants mentioned that this training package has given them the confidence to negotiate trade access, maintain trade and solve other market specific issues.