Prohibitions on imports
Under the WTO-SPS agreement and the International Plant Protection Convention, countries have the right to establish their own phytosanitary import requirements. Many countries include prohibitions on the import of certain commodities on phytosanitary grounds within their import requirements to prevent the spread of pests and maintain food security.
Import prohibitions and impacts on trade
Import controls are not uniformly applied to all countries and a commodity may be required to meet different requirements depending on its country of origin and the level of risk this represents. This means that a commodity might be prohibited from certain, but not all, countries.
An import prohibition by it's very nature represents a restriction to trade, therefore it must be based on scientific principles and be technically justified. For phytosanitary purposes this technical justification is usually presented in the form of a pest risk analysis conducted in accordance with International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures.
Export market access requests
A market access request is exactly what the name suggests. It is a request from the National Plant Protection Organisation (NPPO) of a country wishing to gain market access for a prohibited commodity to the NPPO of the country of import. It is a request for the prohibition not to be applied to goods originating in the country wishing to gain market access and that the goods are allowed access to what would otherwise be a prohibited market. If the request is successful it becomes the basis of a market access agreement between the two countries.
The 'typical' export market access process
For plants a market access request is generally an opportunity for the country wishing to gain market access to demonstrate that the phytosanitary status of the commodity to be exported from their territory is equal to or greater than that of the country where the prohibition is applied. In such cases a prohibition would not be technically justified as the exported commodity would present no greater risk than it would had it naturally occurred or been produced in the country of import.
Whilst there is no international framework governing plant health market access negotiations most countries, including the UK, follow a very similar process (overview of the general export market access process):
UK business approaches Defra (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Defra contacts the NPPO of the importing country.
NPPO of the importing country provides Defra with a list of questions which need to be answered in the form of a technical dossier.
Defra works with the UK business(s) to complete the technical dossier. Once complete Defra submits to the importing country.
Importing country initiates its pest risk analysis (PRA), during this they may ask for additional technical/scientific information or clarification.
Importing country may conduct an audit (this isn’t always required).
How long will a market access request take
There is no way of knowing exactly how long it will take to conclude a market access request. Market access negotiations are not something which progress quickly and it usually takes two or more years before a decision is made.
Factors that influence the duration of a market access request
The time taken to complete the process is influenced by a number of factors:
Resources of the NPPO requesting market access.
Ability of business(s) to provide the information required to complete a dossier.
Complexity of the market access request.
Resources of the NPPO considering the market access request.
Number of staff available to review dossiers.
Level of technical competence.
Number of applications being considered at anyone time.
There is no set time that a market access negotiation must be completed within and there is also no guarantee that a market access application will be successful.