Food Safety: A Key to
Harmonization of Trade in the Americas
Ann M. Veneman
Keynote address to the Pan American Health Organization Ministerial
April 24, 2003
morning and thank you very much for the opportunity to be here today. It is
truly an honor to share the platform with so many distinguished guests and
particularly President Batlle of Uruguay.
truly appreciate the opportunity to be with you once again. We had a great
meeting yesterday and we really appreciate the strong working relationship
between out two countries.
have had the opportunity also to see many of my colleagues from throughout the
Americas over the last couple of days and we truly appreciate the opportunity to
speak to so many ministers about the issues that are important to our countries.
truly a great pleasure for me to speak to such a distinguished gathering as we
have here today about the vital nexus between agriculture and protection of the
have been asked to speak to you today about the role food safety plays in the
harmonization of trade with the Americas.
ministerial and the Pan American Health Organization's ongoing efforts on these
issues are important building blocks in the foundation we need to achieve our
common goals of a safe food supply and trade harmonization.
Cooperation will be a theme throughout my remarks today, because we are moving
closer to the fulfillment of a grand vision ... that of a free-trade area
spanning our entire hemisphere.
elimination of trade barriers under negotiation of the Free Trade Area of the
Americas would create a formidable market, with a population of 800 million
people across 34 countries ... and an annual gross domestic product of $13
seek to expand and maintain markets and the confidence of consumers in our own
countries and worldwide, our challenge will be to address legitimate concerns,
in areas such as food safety ... without erecting unnecessary barriers to trade.
quite appropriate that PAHO is hosting this meeting, because it was in this
hemisphere that our modern, global efforts to address food safety, and sanitary
and phytosanitary measures and their trade ramifications were born.
1986, in Punta del Este, Uruguay, the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations was
privileged to be a part of the U.S. government delegation, which attended that
of the most momentous decisions that was made was to incluye sanitary and
phytosanitary measures in trade negotiations that had previously been limited to
tariffs, quotas, and similar border measures.
talks we launched in Punta del Este ultimately yielded the WTO [World Trade
Organization] Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, or what is
commonly referred to as the SPS Agreement.
SPS agreement was born out of the realization that as tradicional tariff and
non-tariff trade barriers were reduced, sanitary and phytosanitary measures
would gain importance in global trade in food and agricultural products.
better or worse, we were right.
the conclusion of the Uruguay Round in 1996, there have been over 20 WTO dispute
settlement actions involving the SPS Agreement, and innumerable issues that have
arisen but have not been taken to the WTO for various reasons.
critical importance of the SPS Agreement is that it establishes clear rules that
give governments ample flexibility to fulfill their central roles of protecting
the health and safety of the public and the agriculture industry, while at the
same time preventing the abuse of SPS measures for protectionist ends.
Policymakers in all countries owe it to farmers, the food industry and consumers
alike to ensure that food safety is an issue where we find common ground, rather
than a battleground.
basis for that common ground was found in the principles that were rooted in
sound science, and not the shifting winds of geopolitics.
standards and guidelines that are not based on scientific principles runs the
risk of confusing consumers and eroding public confidence in the food safety
order to prevent such abuses, it is vital that we work together to establish
consensus and to increase participation and cooperation within the international
bodies that can assist food safety and trade efforts.
year during the "World Food Summit-Five Years Later" in Rome, we hosted a
meeting of agriculture ministers from all throughout Latin America and with IEKA
to discuss more effective regional cooperation on trade and regulatory issues.
urged more cooperation to address confusion and uncertainty that has arisen
regarding cross-border sanitary and phytosanitary sigues and conflicting
discussed a greater role for the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on
Agriculture, or IICA, to help facilitate regional cooperation and harmonization
of regulations and procedures.
is one of the reasons why the alliance between PAHO and IICA is especially
important and will play a greater role as we look to the integration of the
alliance will allow both organizations to build upon each other's strengths and
technical expertise with an action-oriented plan that seeks to improve the
agricultural economies throughout the Americas.
are many international bodies whose efforts are becoming increasingly vital.
Codex Alimentarius Commission helps set standards for human health and food
safety, and the International Office of Epizootics and the International Plant
Protection Convention relate to animal and plant health, respectively.
organizations serve as key reference points under the WTO, especially when it
comes to the dispute-resolution process.
the extent that these international bodies establish standards based on sound
science, their contributions will be vital to advancing the enforcement of
existing WTO rules and the trade obligations of member nations.
the extent that these standards are based on arbitrary decisions or political
considerations, non-tariff barriers will remain and potentially increase as
member nations adopt them.
instance, efforts to extend the so-called precautionary principle to WTO
countries are troublesome and fly directly in the face of the science-based
approach established by the SPS agreement.
nations may even adopt misguided principles out of the fear of lost markets in
should not harmonize just for the sake of harmonization, with regulations that
cater to the lowest common denominator. Instead, regulations should be based
upon scientific evidence and not the presence of mere theoretical risk.
have stated, it is crucial that policymakers avoid the misuse of the SPS
Agreement to protectionist ends.
in which that is clearly happening is biotechnology.
Biotechnology -- accompanied by strong, effective regulation -- is one potential
tool to address issues of food safety and food security around the world.
fact is that the opponents have been long on politics and short on science.
Recent research has shown the potential for future advances such as fruits and
vegetables that are resistant to viruses and bacteria... foods that may one day
contain easy-to-administer vaccines for humans and animals ... and products that
are altered to improve their nutritional content.
Clearly, developments in science and technology hold the promise of making a key
contribution to food security and food safety, and the quality of our lives.
upcoming Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology,
which we are hosting, will explore these issues, as well as new technologies and
new solutions to the challenges we face.
Already, more than 100 ministers, some of whom who are here today, have
indicated that they will attend this conference, which will be held June 23 to
25 in Sacramento, California.
Some of the highlights of
this conference will include:
policymakers on the critical role of science and technology in 21st century
An opportunity to
establish research, technology and information exchanges.
A roundtable of
agricultural, environmental, and research ministers from around the world to
discuss and showcase agriculture-related technologies that can change lives,
economies, and the health of consumers.
technical assistance and capacity-building initiatives to promote technology
transfer to developing countries.
vital that international organizations such as PAHO and IICA reorient their
missions in developing countries to focus on the efforts that will bear the most
fruit... efforts that look to the long term, such as capacity building and
also imperative for those countries with the resources and the expertise to
contribute to capacity building and technical assistance efforts.
Nowhere is capacity building more critical than in the area of food safety and
sanitary and phytosanitary measures.
Countries will only be able to benefit from expanding trade opportunities for
food and agriculture if they have effective food safety and sanitary and
phytosanitary systems in place and are able to meet the standards of other
Furthermore, when we help another country control problems such as BSE and foot
and mouth disease, we are at the same time helping to avoid those problems
within our own borders and those around us.
has been involved with other agencies and partners in a number of specific
efforts to promote food safety and plant and animal health in the Americas
through capacity-building and technical-assistance efforts.
have used the Cochran Fellowship Program to bring foreign technical experts to
the United States to train in areas such as WTO technical requirements on food
safety and sanitary and phytosanitary issues.
U.S. government has also funded participation at WTO's Sanitary and
Phytosanitary committee meetings for representatives from 32 IICA member
project will help countries in the hemisphere gain a better understanding of the
SPS committee and learn how to better implement SPS commitments.
United States has also been involved in a number of other projects designed to
help developing countries in the Americas improve their capabilities to meet WTO
obligations, especially regarding sanitary and phytosanitary needs.
pursue the Doha Development Agenda and ask that developing nations embrace an
agenda of trade reform, we must also demonstrate that these nations will share
in the benefits of trade.
Assisting with needs involving technical expertise, technology sharing, and
infrastructure development all represent cooperative efforts that will be needed
to achieve trade harmonization and improvements in global food safety.
Homeland security and bioterrorism have emerged as a new focus in our
post-September 11th world.
United States has responded with additional measures to prevent the intentional
introduction of pathogens or adulterants into the food supply, as well as to
strengthen animal and plant health protections.
no nation should use homeland security concerns as a pretext to set up
protectionist measures ... or those not based on sound science or which violate
the SPS Agreement.
U.S. Department of Agriculture is committed to working with our food-safety
partners at the Food and Drug Administration and other U.S. government agencies
to minimize trade impacts related to homeland security measures... and to
address the concerns of our trading partners.
are few enterprises that are more global in their scope than agriculture.
as we all know, issues of food safety, and animal and plant health do not
respect national boundaries.
is why we must all dedicate our efforts to a cooperative approach, in the spirit
of the Uruguay Round that began in our own hemisphere.
liberalization, accompanied by science-based food systems that protect the
public health, has the unparalleled potential to Benedit all of us in the
Americas and all around the world.
all stand to reap the benefits, if we only commit ourselves to working together.
you very much.
Note: In the text "trillion" means 1,000,000 million.
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May 05, 2003