Introducing electronic phytosanitary certification
Integrated digital system replaces paper processes
Ecuador, the world’s biggest banana exporter and a major producer of other crops such as cut flowers and cocoa, is constantly seeking ways of maintaining and growing international market share. Introducing electronic phytosanitary certification (ePhyto) by adopting the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) ePhyto Solution has enabled the country to replace a complex, paper-based phytosanitary certification system with a seamless electronic process, allowing quick, accurate, low-cost, exchange.
The transition to ePhyto supports trade facilitation is projected to save exporters approximately 1.9 million hours and over US $6 million a year. Beyond those quantitative benefits, electronic phytosanitary certificates:
- allow quick, accurate, low-cost exchange of phytosanitary certificates, alleviating administrative time and costs on border agencies as well as traders
- reduce the risk of errors, loss, and fraud, strengthening consumer safety
- enhance competitiveness by introducing a seamless, transparent system that generates greater confidence in quality and origin
- increase food security through quicker border clearance, lessening food spoilage and waste
- help in levelling the playing field for MSMEs by supporting their integration into global supply chains
- provide greater transparency, making it more attractive for importers to do business with Ecuadorian exporters.
This may generate increased demand for products which, in turn, will entice more farmers to transition from subsistence to trade, creating surplus value that will generate growth.
A phytosanitary certificate is a legal document issued by a country’s National Plant Protection Organisation (NPPO) for exports of plants and plant-based goods certifying that they are free of specific pests and diseases. In 2021, Ecuador’s NPPO, Agrocalidad, issued around 370,000 hard copy certificates.
The time and cost involved in exporting is especially discouraging for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), lacking the resources to work through the application process before risking the uncertainty created by unexpected delays.
Previously, it took almost eight hours over the course of five working days to obtain a phytosanitary certificate. An initial email application from an exporter would trigger an on-site inspection. After approval, an exporter would then have to travel to a district Agrocalidad office to present the inspection report, make payment and receive the documentation for presentation at the relevant Agrocalidad control post at point of departure. And all the while, the clock was ticking – exporters have just 72 hours to ship the consignment after inspection or start the process all over again.
The next steps created more uncertainty. The exporter would courier, post or send the certificate with the shipment to an importer for customs clearance on arrival. Along the way, it would pass through many hands, making it prone to loss, damage, and fraud.
Finally, if the paperwork is rejected at the port of entry, the original documents have to be returned for amendments, leading to additional storage costs, deterioration and spoilage of fresh produce, and frustrated customers. Ultimately, this undermines food security while compromising the government’s ambitions to position the country as a premium agri-food producer.
What We Did
In line with its public private partnership approach to successful project implementation, the Alliance worked with Agrocalidad, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, the Ministry of Commerce, the Association of Banana Exporters of Ecuador (AEBE), the Association of Cocoa Exporters, the Association of Flower Exporters, logistics agencies and local businesses, in integrating into the IPPC ePhyto Hub, a central exchange.
The Alliance supported Agrocalidad in upgrading its system to enable integration into the hub. This involved numerous technical inputs, including introducing:
- a new monitoring system to detect errors and correct them instantly
- eSignature – a mandatory bolt-on to electronic phytosanitary certificates in many jurisdictions, including the European Union.
- an upgrade of Agrocalidad systems
- technical assistance for system process review and improvements.
These upgrades allow seamless exchange with a growing number of IPPC ePhyto Hub members, including key trading partners, the United States of America and the European Union.
Adopting a comprehensive approach to digitalisation, the Alliance catalysed and sustained buy-in among key public and private sector stakeholders through a series of public private dialogues and workshops tailored to Agrocalidad officials and exporters. More than 600 people from the private sector and 200 people from the public sector in nine different provinces participated in the dialogues and training sessions.
Recognising the importance of making the system as user-friendly as possible to encourage accessibility and adoption, the private sector played a vital role in rigorous testing. Many companies, including AEBE and other major exporters of agri-food, piloted the integration, ironing out glitches and providing invaluable feedback. Local MSMEs also figured prominently during implementation, representing over 90% of companies engaged in various project activities.
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