EPA Helping Farmers, Food Processors to Break into European Market

Organic farmer Fonyije Chigozili is hoping to break into the European market.

She has benefited from valuable assistance to achieve her goal under the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), being implemented by the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ).

Under the programme, local fresh produce, processed sauces and mixes have duty-free quota access to markets in Europe, tapping into a market of more than 450 million high-income consumers.

Ms. Chigozili, who is a member of the Jamaica Organic Agriculture Movement (JOAM), was among several farmers, food processors and exporters, who recently benefited from capacity-building training under phase one of the initiative (EPA 1).

The series of workshops and seminars was developed in collaboration with the Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association (JMA), Jamaica Exporters’ Association (JEA), National Certification Body of Jamaica (NCBJ), and the Plant Quarantine/Produce Inspection Division of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries.

The training, held in Trelawny, Kingston and Manchester, focused on preparing participants for trade opportunities. It examined technical barriers to trade and regulatory requirements for food exports to the European Union (EU), Canada and CARICOM countries.

Emphasis was placed on areas that will impact and enhance the ability of stakeholders to contribute meaningfully to preparations for international trade negotiations and how to maximise the benefits.

Sessions on organic farming, fresh food and animal products, as well as how to package and process these products according to international standards, were included; so too were lessons on how manufacturers could build competitiveness.

Ms. Chigozili tells JIS News that she learnt a lot from the training.

“Months ago, I did not know much about EPA. I heard about it, but I could not make the linkage to see how I, as a small organic farmer, would utilise the agreement. Fast-track to the EPA project workshop and I have learnt so much about bottling, packaging and so forth, that I feel I know enough to start exporting,” she tells JIS News.

She notes that the organic market is the fastest growing market in the food industry worldwide, with an estimated value of approximately US$150 billion. She believes that Jamaican farmers can claim a piece of this pie.

In expressing gratitude for the training, Ms. Chigozili explains she was only now beginning to realise that “there are a lot of steps involved in trading to enter the various markets”.

“It will benefit us (Jamaican farmers). It will take us a while to comply, but we now have the information. We need to make sure that we have the certification required for trading under the EPA,” she says.

The EPA, which was signed in 2008, is a partnership between Europe and Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) states.

To tap into the market, Jamaican producers and exporters must commit to the rights, obligations and provisions in the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).

Ms. Chigozili notes that many farmers do not have the basic infrastructure or knowledge to export, but with the right training and the provisions under the EPA, the possibilities are endless.

“The EPA will lead to a boost in employment in farming and the manufacturing industry and even give access to a wider range of good-quality products in our country,” she points out.

Export Manager at the JMA, Eileen Hooper-Donaldson, says her agency has recognised the impact that the EPA will have on the manufacturing industry, and so it has taken steps to train business operators.

She notes that while many of those attending the workshops knew about the EPA, they needed clarity on how it could benefit or work for them.

Mrs. Hooper-Donaldson informs that the first series of EPA project workshops and seminars were conducted in three parishes during August 2016, and a number of small and large business operators attended.

She notes that after the series of training, manufacturers should be able to identify labelling requirements relating to sodium, sugar and allergens.

Mrs. Hooper-Donaldson says some key players within the industry require training to understand the logistics, given that aspects of the trade agreement address maintaining and increasing the capacity to protect health, safety, consumers, and the environment.

She points out that standards are important internationally and many producers in the Jamaican food industry will need to understand the legal and regulatory requirements of the market they are targeting for export.

Mrs. Hooper-Donaldson says some of these relate to dietary standards, labelling requirements and compliance, traceability, voluntary standards such as fair trade, and eco-labels.

She emphasises that the EPA is laying a foundation on which the economy can grow.

She notes that many of the exporters who participated in the workshop are already adhering to the trade requirements of the foreign country to which they export, and so they have never experienced rejection of their produce at another country’s port of entry.

“We anticipate the day when the country will standardise its manufacturing operations. We want the local food industry to produce at the same high standards in order to protect our consumers at the national and international level as well as promote a culture of quality,” Mrs. Hooper-Davidson says.

The purpose of the EPA I Capacity Building Project is the creation of an enabling environment to support increased compliance of Jamaican agriculture and agribusiness exports with international quality standards. The objective is to facilitate increased and more diversified exports into EU and other global markets.

Under the EPA, the Microbiology and Chemistry laboratories at the Bureau of Standards; and the Pesticide Research Laboratory at UWI, Mona, have been ISO 17025 accredited; and the accreditation of the Microbiology, Residue Testing and Parasitological laboratories of the Veterinary Services Division of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries is imminent.

The Plant Virology and molecular diagnostic testing laboratory at the Ministry’s Bodles Agricultural Research Station in St. Catherine was upgraded, thus meeting the physical requirements for ISO 17025 accreditation.

EPA II, which is under way, has an expanded scope that addresses supply side issues for exports.
Stakeholders in the coffee, sauces and spice industries are to benefit from support to boost exports in accordance with the priorities of the National Export Strategy.

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