Digitalising phytosanitary certificate exchange

Changing the dynamic for agri-food exporters


The Impacts

Since exchanging its first electronic phytosanitary certificate through the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) ePhyto Hub in April 2020, Morocco has become one of the system’s most prolific members. Within 18 months, only the United States of America was exchanging more ePhytos than Morocco.

In the case of the European Union, implementation has granted Morocco seamless access to TRACES, the regional online platform for sanitary and phytosanitary certification, allowing single certification for a marketplace of almost 450 million people and replacing previous bi-lateral agreements with various member states.

Around 80% of total agricultural exports are now covered by ePhytos and, crucially, the documentation covering every shipment requiring phytosanitary certificates with its main markets, the European Union, and the United States of America is now digitalised.

The adoption of ePhyto has changed the dynamics of Morocco’s crucial agri-food trade, which accounts for 19% of gross domestic product, 16% of total exports, employs 80% of the rural labour force, and 21% of the industrial workforce.

In future, this may help in enabling other producers, particularly micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), to become exporters or to play a greater role in the exporting chain as electronic transmission has injected greater predictability and helped mitigate costly delays.

Importantly, seamless exchange and amendments also helps drive food security by reducing costly delays at points of entry, mitigating spoilage and even total shipment loss.

The Challenge

Phytosanitary certificates are official documents issued by governments to confirm that shipments of plants and plant products are free of pests and diseases. These certificates are typically physical paper documents transferred between different parties by post, courier or other means. These certificates can take days to obtain and are prone to errors, loss and counterfeiting. This slows down trade and at worst results in spoiled goods, additional storage charges and frustrated customers and governments.

Prior to April 2020, despite the best efforts of the Moroccan government, which provided staff and resources to speed up the process, Moroccan agri-food exporters were still facing an average four-hour round trip to designated offices to obtain the necessary documentation.

And if the paperwork accompanying a consignment from Agadir to Marseille failed to match the specified weight or there was some other discrepancy, a replacement certificate would have to be generated and couriered from Morocco to France – a process that could take up to a week. Perishable goods comprising the bulk of the country’s exports risked partial or even total decay.

Such difficulties affected small agri-food exporters disproportionately as they could ill-afford to incur such losses. And such losses could also have a significant impact on the large number of women who rely on the sector for their livelihood. According to OECD figures, while overall female labour force participation in Morocco stood at 21.3% in 2020, women accounted for 52.2% of the agriculture workforce.

What We Did

In collaboration with the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Agriculture, the Alliance worked with ONSSA and business to digitalise the country’s phytosanitary certificate process by:

  • Setting up the technical environment to integrate Morocco into the IPPC ePhyto Solution, enabling the exchange of ePhytos by connecting ONSSA’s SIPS (Système d’Information Phytosanitaire) to the IPPC ePhyto Hub. The Alliance supported ONSSA, to develop IT capacity with the assistance of a team of IPPC implementation experts.
  • Initiating a change management programme to persuade stakeholders to embrace the new system. This involved meetings, events, engagements with trade bodies and email campaigns targeting the private sector, which was quick to realise the benefits ePhyto adoption would bring. Meanwhile, officials welcomed the prospect of less paperwork.

The success of this project is testimony to public private partnership. Both sectors recognised the strategic opportunity the introduction of ePhytos offered, and worked together to make it happen. Throughout implementation, additional public private dialogues were held at key moments, keeping business informed, engaged and ready to use the new system.

The private sector also participated in training sessions promoting the use of the new system at various locations throughout the country. As a result, business embraced ePhyto with enthusiasm. Through the project, both sectors built trust, laying the groundwork for future reforms.

The achievement has also encouraged other developing countries and least developed countries in Africa to follow suit, including Cameroon, Madagascar and Senegal .

Various private sector organisations contributed significantly to the successful development and implementation of the project, including the General Confederation of Enterprises of Morocco (CGEM), the Moroccan Association of Exporters (ASMEX), the Professional Association of Ship Agents & Shipbrokers of Morocco (APRAM) and the Moroccan Confederation of Agriculture and Rural Development (COMADER).

The project took 36 months and was successfully closed in October 2021.




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