Morocco leads the way in Africa as digital phytosanitary certificates go live

International agri-food trade with Morocco is set to become faster and more cost-effective for importers and exporters as the country introduces electronic phytosanitary certificates. The international electronic exchange of ‘e-phytos’ was launched on 26 March, making Morocco one of the first African countries to fully integrate and use ePhyto within their national trade system.

This comes at a time when governments around the world are tackling the coronavirus crisis and looking for new ways of mitigating the effects on the economy. As countries go into lockdown, digitisating operations is becoming more important than ever in keeping goods moving.

The first exchanges took place in March between Morocco’s Office National de Sécurité Sanitaire des produits Alimentaires (ONSSA) and the United States’ Department of Agriculture (USDA). Ephyto exchanges between Morocco and other countries in the ePhyto programme will become operational in the coming weeks and months. Under the new electronic system, certificates can be transferred immediately between all countries via the ‘e-phyto hub’, under the initiative led by the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM), the governing body of the International Plant Protection Convention. Compared to the purely paper-based system, the new e-phytos will reduce the risk of loss, damage or fraud, while helping to cut delays and costs for traders. For example, clearance at the port of destination, or certificate modifications often required after the shipment has left its port of origin, can be done instantly without having to wait for the paper certificate. It is also expected to reduce the administrative burden on border agencies and pave the way for Morocco to exchange other types of data with trading partners.

The improvements are part of a trade facilitation project led by the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation, a collaboration of international organisations, governments and businesses that aims to help developing and least developed countries implement the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). The Alliance is funded by the governments of the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and Denmark. The project was developed and delivered from the ground-up with representatives of business and government working together to identify bottlenecks at the border and put in place measures to address them.

The project supports Morocco in its ambitious plan to fully digitalise all import and export operations and achieve ‘zero paper’ by 2021. ONSSA has also recently developed a new online portal which companies can use to apply for phytosanitary certificates, making the process faster and simpler. The service was officially launched in January and is made available to all economic operators registered with ONSSA.

Philippe Isler, Director of the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation, said: “This is an important milestone for ONSSA and the Moroccan government in its mission to create the best possible environment for business to trade and make its operations as efficient as possible. The current crisis is only serving to underline how important digitising processes can be in keeping goods moving efficiently.”

“Part of our work is focused on sharing best practices and encouraging other countries to accelerate their implementation of the TFA. Morocco is one of those countries leading the way in Africa. We are looking forward to working with both public and private sectors in Morocco to share the successes of this project with other countries which are looking to digitise and facilitate trade.”

The next phases of the project will see ONSAA and the Alliance running training for Moroccan businesses to help them use the new system. The Alliance’s monitoring and evaluation team will also be working with ONSSA and agri-food companies to measure the impact of the introduction of ePhytos for traders and government agencies in terms of the time and cost saved.