New EU Plant Health Regulation Could Carry Important Implications for Smaller Scale ACP Exporters


The EU’s new Plant Health Regulation adopts a far more comprehensive and proactive precautionary approach than at present. It will lead to far stricter SPS controls on ‘priority pests’ in ‘high risk commodities’. For these products from 13 December 2019 trade will be prohibited without a favourable pest risk assessment.  In this context the regulation makes provision for temporary EU restrictions and import bans where the pest risk is unknown.

Given the timetable for secondary legislation, in calendar year 2019 ACP competent authorities in countries exporting high risk commodities could face substantial additional demands on their human and financial resources in terms of pest mapping and  monitoring and operationalisation of effective pest control programmes. Smaller scale ACP exporters of high risk commodities could be particularly vulnerable, given the whole process will also impose substantial additional burdens on the EU SPS inspection service and these smaller exporting  countries may not be a priority for pest risk assessment, even if requests for assessments are submitted in a timely manner by the national competent authority .

The EU is in the process of introducing a new Plant Health Regulation (Regulation (EU) 2016/2031) which will replace seven pre-existing Council Directives on harmful organisms (1).  The EC notes how ‘destructive plant pests can take various forms – viruses, bacteria, insects, fungi etc’ and how considerable important is attached to preventing the entry into the EU of non-indigenous pests and infections and combating pests and infection where they exist in the EU (1).

The new regulation covers all pests, with pests being placed into three categories on the basis of risk assessments:

  • Union quarantine pests: that is pests which are not present in the EU or which ‘if present, are localised and under official controls’. These pests are seen as posing ‘a high risk to plant health’, with strict measures being seen as necessary to ‘prevent their entry or spread within the EU’;
  • Protected zone quarantine pests: which are ‘present in most parts of the EU, but absent from certain ‘protected zones’. These pests must not be allowed to enter and spread within these protected zones’.
  • Regulated non-quarantine pests: which are ‘widely present in the EU but, as they have an impact on plant quality, seeds or planting material must be guaranteed free or almost free from the pest’ (3).

Within the category of ‘quarantine pests’ a further concept of ‘priority pests’ is to be applied which relates to those ‘quarantine pests’ which are likely to have ‘the most severe potential impacts on the economy, environment and/or society of the EU’. It is these ‘priority pests’ which will be subject to ‘enhanced measures’ (1).

These enhanced measures will include pest surveys, pest eradication action plans and contingency plans for dealing with pests (2). The list of   ‘priority pests’ has still to be determined, but is projected to be in place before the regulation enters fully into force on 13th December 2019 (2).

According to COLEACP, ‘the regulation also introduces specific measures concerning imports, and the movement within the EU, of certain high risk commodities’ (2). The list of high risk commodities is scheduled to be drawn up by December 2018, as is the list of products which because of their well-established track record and favourable risk assessments can be excluded from the need for ‘plant passports’ (3).

The new EU Plant Health Regulation is seen as establishing a ‘new level of precaution’ in the application of the EU’s precautionary principle. Through this regulation the EC seeks to set in place a more proactive approach to pest controls in imported products (2). This is seen as a potentially contentious area of the new regulation.

Once the list of high risk plants has been established ‘importing these high risk commodities will be prohibited unless and until a detailed pest risk assessment (PRA) has been carried out to determine if imports are acceptable and, if yes, under what conditions’ . These PRAs will only be conducted by the EU authorities ‘on request’, with third country competent authorities being responsible for providing basic data ‘on the pests and diseases present on the crop’. Thus ‘while the import of most plants and plant products from non-EU countries will in principle be allowed, they will be subject to more stringent conditions’ (3).

The new regulation will in addition allow the introduction of ‘temporary measures against new trade’ where there is no track record of trade and hence the pest risks are unknown. This could see the introduction of ‘temporarily restrictions on imports, or even a ban, until more data becomes available to enable a risk assessment’.

According to COLEACP, the new regulation could carry ‘some serious implications for trade’, particularly for commodities listed as high risk (2) (scheduled for published by December 2018). COLEACP is setting in place a programme of cooperation with the ‘competent authorities’ in ACP countries, ACP representatives on the SPS Committee and industry representatives with a view to avoiding ‘any loss or breaks in trade which would have a negative development impact’ (2).

Comment and Analysis

The fact that imports will need to take place under much more stringent control conditions will likely involve substantial additional costs, both at the level of producers and the ‘competent authority’ in the third country concerned.

These costs are likely to prove particularly onerous in ACP countries which have only small export volumes. For small scale exporters these additional costs could undermine the commercial viability of serving high value EU export supply chains.

In other sectors (e.g. the Namibian beef sector) this challenge of rising SPS compliance costs has been addressed by getting closer to retailers and moving up the value chain by serving the specific needs of specific retailers. This enables the increased SPS compliance costs to be carried on a higher value of exports.  This is particularly important where export volumes are limited.

For high risk plant products smaller scale ACP exporters may need to explore similar strategies of getting closer to retailers to facilitate movement up the value chain prior to export.

More importantly in the short term, the fact that import bans could be introduced for high risk products with no track record on which pest risk assessments can be carried out, is a matter of some concern. All pests will be covered by the regulation, yet the specific list of high risk pests may not be known until well into 2019, while the list of high risk commodities is not scheduled to be published until December 2018.  This raises questions as to the viability of conducting  all the necessary pests risk assessments during the 2019 calendar year for the multiplicity of product potentially covered from all sources of imports into the EU.

This may require those ACP governments with export interests in products potentially deemed high risk to make additional financial allocations to their national ‘competent authorities’ for calendar years 2018 and 2019 to ensure all necessary data on pest risks is available, once the list of high risk commodities is known.  This would then enable the necessary mandatory pest risk assessments to be carried out in a timely manner.

These ‘competent authorities’ in the affected ACP countries will also need to make sure appropriate pest control programmes are in place, so that a favourable pest risk assessments is obtained. On the basis of this preparation ACP governments can then expeditiously submit formal request to the EU for the conduct of the required pest risk assessments.  This timely submission of a formal request is important since the EC authorities will only conduct such PRAs at the request of the third country competent authority.

At this point however the question will arise in ACP countries with only limited volumes of exports as to the priority which the EC is likely to give a country in scheduling formal pest risk assessments when only limited volumes are involved.

Against this background it would appear as if COLEACP has a considerable task ahead in supporting ACP competent authorities in ensuring the introduction of the new EU Plant Health Regulation does not lead to significant level of trade disruption.

The extent to which ACP national competent authorities are well placed to meet the challenges which lie ahead will be put to the test in the implementation of the EU’s new controls on False Coddling Moth, which will come into effect on 1st January 2018.

If ACP competent authorities face challenges in meeting EU requirements for the control of False Coddling Moth infestations, then they would appear to be poorly place to meet the wider challenges which will arise from the implementation of the new EU Plant Health Regulation, which will require actions against a wide variety of pests and plant infections across multiple plant based export products.

(1) EC, New Plant Health Regulation; stringent rules for a better protection from plant pests’, EC Fact Sheet, 13 December 2013
(2) COLEACP, ‘New EU Plant Health Regulation: anticipating impacts for African Caribbean and Pacific countries’, 12 October 2017
(3) COLEACP, ‘Stringent new European Union Health Regulations Introduced’, 27 January 2017
(4) EC, ‘Regulation (EU) 2016/2031 of the European Parliament of the Council of 26 October 2016 on protective measures against pests of plants’, OJ L 317/4, 23 November 2016

Key words:           SPS, Horticulture, COLEACP
Area for Posting:  SPS, Horticulture