Food Law News - FAO/WHO/WTO/Codex - 1999

11 October 1999: FAO NEWS ITEM - Conference Convenes to Assess Future of Food Trade Agreements

FAO Press Release (99/59), 11 October 1999

Conference Convenes to Assess Future of Food Trade Agreements

Five years after the conclusion of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations and the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO), an international conference opens today to reassess the implications of agreements dealing with food trade. The complicated issues of improving and harmonizing standards for international food trade and new questions that continue to arise over food quality and safety will be discussed at the 'International Food Trade--Beyond 2000' conference organized by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the WTO, 11-15 October in Melbourne, Australia.

"International Food Trade--Beyond 2000" will take up topics ranging from food related illnesses to the training of food industry personnel in less developed countries. The Conference will offer non-binding recommendations and guidance to governments, international organizations and consumer groups.

One objective of the conference will be to assist developing countries to enjoy the benefits they accrued on signing the Uruguay Round Agreements.

"The conference will provide countries with guidance for working with Codex Alimentarius and the World Trade Organization, helping reduce problems related to quality and safety of food traded internationally," said David Byron, Assistant Secretary to the Conference. "This provides all countries with increased consumer protection, increased access to export markets, increased foreign exchange and improved food security."

Codex Alimentarius is the FAO/WHO Commission that determines global food standards. Codex science-based standards are considered the benchmark for consumers, producers, food control agencies and international food trade. "International Food Trade--Beyond 2000" will discuss science-based decision making.

The Conference discussions and recommendations are expected to challenge governments and the food industry to better identify biological, chemical and physical food safety hazards, and to recognize emerging hazards. These recommendations can be used by the Codex Alimentarius Commission in establishing food standardization priorities. Other proposed conference recommendations, such as reducing the levels of adulteration in food and establishing a registry of incidents of food-related illnesses resulting from contamination can serve as guidelines for FAO and WHO.

"FAO is greatly concerned about these problems and strongly believes that efforts should be made to establish and operate surveillance programmes that would provide early warning about emerging food quality and safety problems and enable effective controls at both national and international levels," said Hartwig de Haen, Assistant Director-General of FAO's Economic and Social Department.

One of the big global expenses in food trade comes from shipments that are either rejected or detained by importing countries because the product does not comply with national standards. The conference will also recommend that ways be found to better monitor and eventually reduce the levels of detention and rejection of food in international trade by increasing quality and safety at the point of export.

'International Food Trade beyond 2000' is the third in a series that began in 1962 when the first Food Standards Conference authorized the Codex Alimentarius Commission to begin world-wide work on the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme.

The 1991 Conference on Food Standards, Chemicals in Food and Food Trade, convened jointly by FAO and WHO, in cooperation with GATT, provided a forum for Member Governments to discuss, among other things, the impact of the proposed Sanitary and Phytosanitary Mesaures (SPS) and Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) agreements on international and domestic food trade.

As a result of the deliberations of the 1991 Conference, direction was given to the ongoing work of FAO, WHO and the Codex Alimentarius Commission. "This enabled them to meet the needs of a changing global community," said John Lupien, Director of FAO's Food and Nutrition Division. It is hoped that the recommendations generated at this third conference in the series will provide direction as we enter the next millennium."

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