Africa’s development priorities are spelled out in Agenda 2063— the blueprint for the African Union’s economic development in the coming decades. Specifically, Agenda 2063 identifies agricultural development as a high priority, as detailed in the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP). This is further elaborated in the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods.
The Malabo Declaration (June 2014) specifies seven key commitments, including one on Boosting Intra-African Trade in Agricultural Commodities and Services. Further advanced by the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in March 2018, these commitments seek to harness market and trade opportunities locally, regionally, and internationally.
While there is demonstrated political will to expand intra-regional trade, African countries face several challenges to achieving this objective. Significant progress is ongoing towards reaching regional integration, which has contributed to reductions in tariffs. However, the application of non-tariff measures, such as Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures, remain a major impediment to effective trade. SPS measures are the foundation for domestic consumer health and safe trade, as they have the critical function of protecting countries from risks to public health and to animal and plant life and health.
Weak capacities to enforce SPS measures can result in increased illness from foodborne disease as well as a country’s exclusion from key markets, and poorly applied procedures can result in unnecessary costs, creating inefficiencies in the trading system.
To address some of the health and trade challenges faced by Africa, the African Union Commission, with the support the African Union Development Agency-NEPAD, made a presentation to Member States’ Ministers during their Second Ordinary Session of the Specialized Technical Committee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Water and Environment of October 2017. The presentation underscored the negative effects that mycotoxins, metals and other contaminants pose on human and animal health and constituted a proposal to establish a Continental Food Safety Reference Laboratory. The Ministers endorsed the proposal and requested the AUC to develop a continental Sanitary and Phytosanitary Policy Framework to facilitate harmonisation of AU Member States’ SPS policy in general and to inform the establishment of the Pan African Food Safety Laboratory in particular.
It is within the SPS Framework that the AUDA-NEPAD Food Safety Initiative is currently reviewing Guidelines for Harmonising Regional Food Safety Standards and Legislations across the continent. The Agency is driving the assessment and prioritisation of food safety issues that require urgent interventions. In addition, AUDA-NEPAD is assessing the strengths and weaknesses of institutions in the development, adaptation, harmonisation and enforcement of food safety legislations and standards in the Regional Economic Communities and within countries.
The proposed continental harmonisation of food safety and quality legislations promises recurring benefits of enhanced safety and quality of food, compliance with appropriate standards and access to international, continental and intraregional trade.