International Plant Protection Convention: Department briefing; Committee Programme and Budget: adoption

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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

6 September 2005


Ms E Ngaleka (ANC)

Documents handed out:

International Plant Protection Convention: New Revised Text 1997
Department Power Point Presentation
Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (WTO-SPS) Agreement
Committee Programme
Budget for 2006/07

World Trade Organisation website:
International Plant Protection Convention website:

The Department of Agriculture explained the rights and obligations of South Africa as a signatory to both the 1995 World Trade Organisation Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and the 1979 International Plant Protection Convention. The Department recommended that South Africa adopt the 1997 revised text of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) which brought the Convention in line with the WTO Agreement. This would allow South Africa to have a stronger voice in global agricultural trade. The Department argued that continued IPPC membership was important for the maintenance of its globally competitive position in international agricultural trade. Membership provided access to technical assistance and capacity-building and provided dispute resolution procedures. It strengthened not only relationships with trading partners, but also South Africa's regulatory credibility and its leadership role within Africa.

The Committee expressed concerns about the capacity of the Department to apply the provisions of the IPPC but agreed to recommend that Parliament adopt the revised text of the Convention.


Department briefing

Ms Alice Baxter, Deputy Director of the International Plant Health Matters Directorate, briefed the Committee on the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) and its revised text. The Department gave the Committee an overview of the IPPC and why the Department was recommending South Africa accept the revised text.

The two bodies dealing with plant protection internationally were the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the second the IPPC Secretariat. The WTO set out basic rules for global agricultural trade under three standard-setting bodies (plant /animal health and food safety). The WTO outlined basic rights and obligations for members. The WTO may protect humans, plants and animals within their territories from foreign pests, but members should base all regulatory measures on scientific data.

Ms Baxter explained that the purpose of membership in the IPPC was to secure common and effective action and to prevent the spread and introduction of pests of plants and plant products, and to promote appropriate measures for their control. This was very important for SA because of its multi-entry borders.

The key principles of the IPPC were that it gave contracting parties the sovereign right to regulate imports, but that these regulatory imports should be applied only when necessary. Members should be consistent with risk management, and their restrictions should be non discriminatory, transparent, and based on scientific facts.

Member responsibility to the IPPC included co-operating with the IPPC Secretariat to achieve the aims of the IPPC, and co-ordinating and disseminating information on plant protection procedures in Africa.

Membership of the IPPC supported South Africa’s agricultural industries in terms of maintaining the principles of free, fair and safe trade in accordance with WTO engagements and obligations. Membership gave access to international markets and enabled SA to influence important decisions on norms and standards. It would strengthen not only relationships with trading partners, but also regulatory credibility and its leadership role within Africa. The IPPC membership was important for the maintenance of a globally competitive position in international agricultural trade.

The Department recommended that SA should accept the New Revised Text of the IPPC (1997) rather than forgo its right to participate in international plant health standard-setting procedures.

Discussion Mr D Dlali (ANC) noted that Article 22 of the Convention made it enforceable by ratification of three signatory states and wanted to know how many ratified Members there were. In his opinion Article 13 on a dispute settlement mechanism was vague, particularly paragraph 13(4) where it stated that the Commission's recommendation shall not be binding on contracting parties. Members were thus in a position to opt for agreement in other conventions rather than the IPPC.

Ms Baxter was not sure of the number of Members of IPPC, however two-thirds of Members had already ratified it and the new text was to come into force on 3 October 2005. The IPPC dispute settlement procedure was an informal and less technical one intended to be supplementary to the formal, lengthy and expensive WTO-SPS procedure.

Mr B Radebe (ANC) felt that the decision-making process of using consensus would allow the influential Members to dominate weaker states. He asked how much it cost for IPPC membership.

Ms Baxter agreed that decision-making by consensus could open the IPPC to a "Big Brother" effect and it would be naïve to say otherwise, however the consensus process had worked and was effective. The smallest group had a voice even if it did not concur with the big countries. There was no direct cost for ratification of IPPC by Members of Food and Agriculture Organisations (FAO). However, certain infrastructure and capacity was needed in applying international standards. Members agreed in terms of the SPS Agreement to protect biodiversity and did not incur any additional cost in agreeing to the IPPC.

Dr A van Niekerk (DA) asked if the Department had the capacity to implement, monitor, and enforce the Agreement. How did they monitor Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) coming into the country?

Mr T Ramphele (ANC) asked about South Africa's experiences in enforcing the original 1956 IPPC agreement. He wanted clarity on the definition and determination of the term 'pest'. He asked what mechanisms were in place to prevent pests.

Ms Baxter stated that there was specific legislation in place to deal with the impact of GMO. GMO went through panel and risk mitigation process. A GMO was a gene whose nuclear make-up had been modified in some way. A living modified organism (LMO) was a GMO but had at some point become alive or had the ability to produce life, such as a seed. Ms Baxter replied that South Africa had developed capacity over the years to monitor and regulate imports of GMOs. The Department had improved its structures. For example there were sniffer dogs at Johannesburg International Airport which were able to detect agricultural products and make the public aware of the enforcement of agricultural rules. The capacity in the department had increased, it was still not at the standard it should be but it was better. They were aware of challenges in identifying pest risk and in setting up monitoring mechanisms. The Department was involved in the process of screening imports of Genetically Modified Products.

The Chairperson wanted clarity on why some countries preferred not to be Members of IPPC but belonged to Regional Plan Protection Organisation (RPPO), and were there any unintended consequences for contracting parties in terms of funding.

Ms A Baxter answered that all members of the African Union were members of the RPPO. However, they chose whether or not to be active in the IPPC. Some were members of WTO-SPS and the International Office of Epizootics but not IPPC. The trend in Africa was that members of WTO-SPS become Members of IPPC. Funding initiatives by FAO and other donors like Canada was available to contracting parties especially developing countries for specific initiatives.

Mr S Abrams (ANC) commented that covert or overt importation of pests such as the avian flu, swine fever, food and mouth disease, had had devastating consequences on the economy. He asked if the country was sufficiently capacitated to ensure that these protocols and standards found meaning. He also asked if the invasion of grazing lands and communal areas by alien vegetation was due to foreign imports and what was being done.

Dr E Schoeman (ANC) wanted to know how many pests had come in through the borders and if this could be quantified. He queried how effective the IPPC membership had been, or was it just a piece of paper?

Ms Baxter was not aware of any imported biological organisms becoming a pest. The Department was involved in inspection and testing of imports and if risk was detected, these were not approved for release. Participation in IPPC had improved country’s credibility and role in international circles. It was important to have IPPC and WTO-SPS working together to provide maximum effect. The Agricultural Research Council was innovative and very successful. The structures of the Department effectively implemented the IPPC provisions. Membership was not just a piece of paper. The IPPC and WTO needed to complement each other.

Dr Van Niekerk felt the small size of Department contravened IPPC standards and could have negative consequences for the country. The Chairperson clarified that in effect the question was whether the Department had vacancies and the implications.

Ms Baxter stated that the Department was small but that this was relative, it would never be large enough, but was sufficient and effective. They were in the process of strengthening areas in terms of outbreaks. She admitted that there were vacancies. The Department was faced with skills shortages and problems of retention as the state was not able to offer competitive salaries. Recent restructuring had been significant in strengthening of the SPS component. The Department of Agriculture was re-strategising in terms of funding.

The Committee approved the Convention and recommended to Parliament to adopt it.

Committee Programme and Budget
The Committee considered and adopted its Budget for 2006, although some issues had yet to be finalised and had implications for the Budget.

Mr B Radebe requested that they prioritise issues of land reform because the Land Summit had indicated weaknesses in land reform. In terms of study tours, they needed to consider the Brazilian model of partnership between government and civil society in distributing large amounts of acreage, and also the Namibian experience with the use of expropriation property.

Dr E Schoeman suggested the Eastern bloc experience especially Russia since they had big collective farms and a different emphasis in land reform.

Mr S Holomisa (ANC) suggested Venezuela was where a lot was happening in land distribution and tenure reform.

Mr T Ramphele felt the Committee should give the Chairperson the mandate to finalise the place to be visited and that the Committee should focus on the objectives and policy intervention model to be followed.

The Chairperson said they would first conduct research into development in all the countries suggested and then they could prioritise areas to be visited. The objective was to use land reform as an means of poverty alleviation.

Mr Dali asked whether public hearings on foreign ownership of land would be catered for next year. He felt that the Eastern Cape provincial department had not taken them to problem areas during the oversight visit and asked that they prioritise these areas for visits. Dr Van Niekerk agreed.

Mr S Abrams felt it was not appropriate for disadvantaged communities to pay their travelling costs when briefing the Committee on development in their area.

The Chairperson responded that this had been discussed at a Committee Chairpersons meeting and he would follow up to find out what had been decided. It had been suggested that Committees take public hearings to communities.

A Member asked if the provincial legislature had shared costs.

The Chairperson responded that a meeting had been held last year to synchronise programmes. The Committee Secretary added that the provinces had been informed before they go on visits.

Mr A Nel wanted clarity on the following week’s programme.

The Secretary responded that the Committee would be briefed by the Minister of Agriculture on the Land Summit. It would be a joint meeting with the Select Committee on the National Council of Province (NCOP). The Chairperson added that the Genetically Modified Organisms Bill was still with the executive and in the process of being finalised. The Committee would also be briefed by the SA Women’s Commission on 2 October. Public hearings would be held on 6 October on land reform. The Committee’s oversight report would be finalised on the 8 September.

Committee Minutes
The Committee also adopted minutes of 7, 14, 21 and 23 June, although Members did not have copies of the minutes.

The meeting was adjourned



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