Volume 13 - Phytosanitary certification overview



The purpose of this volume is to provide a basic knowledge of AQIS’s international obligations in respect to phytosanitary inspection and certification and the use of the phytosanitary certificate.

This volume is an overview of Australia’s international obligations under particular international organisations and agreements which aim to protect human, animal and plant health while facilitating international trade.

The volume covers a brief history of each organisation and principles and guidelines of each agreement.

International Agreements and Organisations

It is important for AQIS Authorised Officers (AAO’s) to be aware of the broader international concepts that impact national policy decision making and international trade.

There are a number of international agreements (also called treaties) and organisations established under such agreements, governing trade between countries. A treaty forms part of Australian law only to the extent that it is incorporated into that law by statute.

Therefore, it is important to pay attention to statutes (also called legislation), rather than treaties, to find out what the law is in Australia.

International agreements and organisations that are relevant to the export of plants and plant products from Australia include:

  • World Trade Organisation (WTO)
  • Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement
  • Free Trade Agreements (FTAs)
  • World Health Organisation (WHO)
  • International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC)
  • International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPMs).

World Trade Organisation

The WTO is a United Nations (UN) forum for governments to negotiate trade agreements and to settle trade disputes. The WTO is the only international organisation that deals with the rules of trade between nations.

The fundamental requirement of the WTO is that traded agricultural products are safe, and do not pose risks to human, animal and plant health. Countries impose regulations to ensure food safety and prevent the introduction of diseases and pests through trade, to protect human and animal health (sanitary measures), and plant health (phytosanitary measures).

This section focuses on trade in agricultural commodities, and in particular on animal and plant health issues.

The WTO role is to:

  • administer trade agreements
  • act as a forum for trade negotiations
  • settle trade disputes and
  • review national trade policies.

To further achieve its objectives WTO provides technical assistance and training programmes to assist developing countries in trade policy issues. In addition, WTO cooperates with other international organizations.

Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement

All countries that become members of the WTO are bound by the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement. The SPS Agreement contains information about health and international trade. As trade and travel have expanded significantly in the past 50 years, the movement of products that may pose health risks has also increased.

The Agreements are documents negotiated between governments that provide the legal guidelines for international commerce. They are essentially contracts that bind governments to keep their trade policies within agreed limits.

The SPS Agreement applies to all measures that a WTO member undertakes to protect human, animal or plant life or health within its territory from certain risks, and which may impact on international trade.

The risks to animal life or health may come from:

  • the entry, establishment or spread of pests (including weeds), diseases, disease-carrying organisms or disease-causing organisms additives, contaminants (including pesticide and veterinary drug residues and extraneous matter), toxins or disease-causing organisms in feedstuffs.

The risks to plant life or health may come from:

  • the entry, establishment or spread of pests (including weeds), diseases, disease-carrying organisms or disease-causing organisms.

Obligations under the SPS Agreement

The SPS Agreement recognises the need for WTO members to protect themselves from the risks posed by the entry of pests and diseases, but also seeks to minimise any negative effects of SPS measures on trade.

The SPS measures that WTO members apply can be classified as:

  • Sanitary (relating to human or animal life or health)
  • Phytosanitary (relating to plant life or health).

Members are permitted to adopt SPS measures which are more stringent than the relevant international standards, or adopt SPS measures when international standards do not exist, provided the measures are:

  • based on scientific risk assessment
  • consistently applied
  • not more trade restrictive than necessary.

Examples of SPS measures may include the following:

  • requirement that animals and animal products come from disease-free areas
  • inspection of products for microbiological contaminants
  • mandating a specific fumigation treatment for products
  • setting maximum allowable levels of pesticide residues in food.

Within DAFF, the Trade and Market Access Division (TMAD) is the international arm of the Department and represent Australia’s SPS interests in the international arena. TMAD and units within the BSG, such as AQIS and Biosecurity Australia, work with industry and trading partners to gain, improve and maintain market access for agricultural commodities.

They also participate in international forums to develop policies and standards for trade in food products.

The International Division (ID) of the Department maintains an SPS contact point to fulfil an official obligation under the (WTO) Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the SPS Agreement).

The role of the SPS contact point is coordination of activities involving SPS notifications produced by WTO Member countries.

Free Trade Agreements

A Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is an agreement between two or more countries to give each other preferential market access. Preferential market access may be in the form of elimination of tariffs on trade between such countries, and may also include commitments on services, Customs cooperation, intellectual property, foreign investment, and possibly other issues that will assist trade.

FTAs allow countries to maintain and improve their competitive position in the international market. Although Australia’s top trade priority is continued trade liberalisation through the WTO, the government also acknowledges that FTAs deliver financial gains faster than WTO processes.

FTAs may cover many industry sectors such as agribusiness (dairy, cut flowers, horticulture, meat, and agribusiness equipment), automotive, building and construction, and education for example.

Generally FTAs establish that decisions on matters relating to quarantine and food safety are made on the basis of existing procedures such as scientific risk assessments. This affirmation is made to reflect the obligations under the WTO.

Although DFAT leads and coordinates FTA negotiations on behalf of the Australian Government, DAFF is involved in all FTA negotiations and processes and is responsible for animal and plant health, and quarantine measures, and has a leading role in developing the SPS provisions of FTAs.

World Health Organisation

The World Health Organisation (WHO) was established in 1948 as the United Nations (UN) specialised agency for health.

The WHO’s overall aim is to ‘Attain the highest possible international level of human health.’

The WHO is governed by 192 Member States through the World Health Assembly. Representatives from member states approve the WHO programme, budget and make decisions on major policy issues.

There is a strong linkage between WTO and WHO policies in i ssues such as food safety, infectious disease control, tobacco, environment, access to drugs, health services, food security and nutrition, and biotechnology.

Some of the policies of WTO and WHO complement each other, with the common theme of protecting human health. “For example, the SPS Agreement encourages Members to base their food safety measures on international standards, guidelines and recommendations, where they exist and explicitly refers to the standards, guidelines and recommendations established by the Codex (for which the WHO is a parent organisation).”

International Plant Protection Convention

The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) was established and registered with the United Nations (UN) in 1952. In 2006, over 150 countries were signatories or contracting parties to the IPPC. The IPPC is administered by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN, which aims to ‘Achieve food security for all people internationally.’

The IPPC is an international treaty that aims to prevent the spread and introduction of pests of plants and plant products, and to promote measures for their control. Issues of plant health protection are addressed by the establishment and use of international standards to meet phytosanitary requirements.

The IPPC sets rules, regulations, standards and guidelines for phytosanitary inspection and certification, some of which are incorporated into Australian law. The government representative ‘National Plant Protection Organisation’ (NPPO) for each signatory country implements the requirements set by the IPPC.

DAFF is the representative Plant Protection Organisation of the Australian Government.

The Biosecurity Service Group is the Division of the Department that ensures that Australia’s obligations under the IPPC are carried out. Within the Division, Plant Biosecurity and AQIS have responsibilities as follows.

Plant Biosecurity provides science based quarantine assessments and policy advice that protects Australia’s favourable pest and disease status and enhances Australia’s access to international animal and plant related markets.

AQIS is responsible for implementing departmental objectives, which include compliance with Australia’s obligations under the IPPC. The phytosanitary inspection and certification functions carried out by authorised officers in accordance with the Plant Orders are intended to assist in achieving that objective.

State Departments of Agriculture are responsible for implementing the provisions of Australian law that aim to achieve compliance with Australia’s obligations under IPPC relating to internal quarantine and interstate quarantine controls.

This flowchart shows the responsibility of Agriculture organisations. In order, they are: Food and Agriculture Organisation, International Plant Protection Convention, DAFF, Biosecurity Services Group, AQIS/Biosecurity Australia, State Departments of Agriculture. 

Note: The IPPC establishes international standards for phytosanitary requirements. AQIS, through the functions of its authorised officers under the Orders, applies and regulates the implementation of the IPPC standards.

Obligations under the IPPC are that the NPPO:

  • regulates imports
  • publishes phytosanitary requirements
  • conducts surveillance, treatments and certify exports
  • shares information on pests and regulations
  • notifies trading partners of non-compliance.

The IPPC requires contracting governments to:

  • adopt legislation measures for the protection of plant resources
  • exchange of information on requirements or restrictions in plant quarantine
  • report on the incidence and outbreak of plant pests and diseases, and measures for their control.
The issue of phytosanitary and other official government certificates by authorised officers is an important requirement under the IPPC. The Export Control (Plants and Plant Products) Orders 2011 specifies the requirements relating to issuing phytosanitary certificates.

Volume 12 | Index | Volume 13 (cont.)

Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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