The majority of Codex members have backed guidance on the use of paperless certification in food trade.

The Codex Committee on Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification Systems (CCFICS) recommended the next Codex Alimentarius Commission adopt draft guidance on paperless use of electronic certificates at its meeting in November.

Codex members said the coronavirus pandemic had made it more important for the paperless exchange of official certificates between authorities of different countries.

Overall support but worries expressed
Supporters say it will decrease the time and cost of trade and can be connected to modern, risk-based and electronic methods to support controls and inspection of food to protect consumers.

However, concerns were raised by Chile, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Kenya and Malaysia, who said they would like more time to review the document and aspects related to the technology used before final adoption.

Work on the document began in 2017 and had been sent back for redrafting by the previous CCFICS meeting. It does not force countries to move to paperless certification.

The standard for the electronic certification will be UN/eCERT which was developed by the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), a global standardization body.

Australia hosted the virtual session, which had 600 delegates registered from 60 countries.

Nicola Hinder, from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment in Australia, said the meeting was important to help shape the science-based international standards underpinning food import and export.

“It’s about harmonizing methods and procedures to protect the health of consumers, ensure fair trading practices and facilitate international food trade,” she said.

“During the plenary, Australia will put forward a proposal for new work developing guidance on alternative verification systems such as remote auditing. The Committee will also consider paperless trade which aligns with the 2020-21 congestion busting budget measures, particularly around delivering a more competitive export industry through flexible assurance methods such as the better use of technology.”

Work on third-party assurance, food fraud and remote auditing
The November meeting will also deal with adopting draft principles and guidelines for the assessment and use of voluntary third-party assurance programs (vTPA).

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF) are already doing pilot projects on vTPA with the latter work in Mali and Senegal and Belize and Honduras.

Mike O’Neill, chairperson of the electronic working group that led the work from the UK, said: “The guidelines are already being used in pilot projects in Africa and Latin America which for me makes the last four years hard work even more worthwhile.”

Work will start on development of guidance for the prevention and control of food fraud if approved by the Codex Alimentarius Commission. The United States chairs this electronic working group.

Australia will be leading a working group to develop a discussion paper on guidance on remote audit and verification in regulatory frameworks. The use of ICT tools had become more important during the pandemic but countries were taking up new technology at various paces.

The United States will lead another group to draft a paper on principles for traceability and product tracing as a tool within a food inspection and certification system. A similar document already exists but was approved in 2006.

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