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Title: Implementation of Equivalence within the International Plant Protection Convention
Name: Charlotte Dudley
Institution: Imperial College London, Centre for Environmental Policy
Degree: Environmental Technology MSc, Ecological Management
Academic Year: 2010/ 2011
Supervisors: Megan Quinlan and Dr Jon Knight
The aim is to enhance understanding of phytosanitary measures in trade. More specifically, it
is to generate information about agreements on equivalent measures, the scale of these
agreements, and where- and why- there are discrepancies between on the one hand the formal
structure and obligations and on the other how equivalence is carried out in practice.
These aims and objectives are to: understand the rights and responsibilities for the
implementation of equivalence agreements; identify the trends in the global development of
equivalence agreements; collect and assess perceptions on the concept and International
Standard for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPM) 24 (on equivalence), and how it has been taken
up by contracting parties to the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) and the
Word Trade Organisation (WTO).
Increased globalisation and the more widespread movement of people and goods across the
planet, brings with it the greater risk of introductions of organisms. The trade of fruit,
vegetables, cut and potted flowers, and seeds are among the commodities that can carry pests
and diseases which can damage plant life and health. This can have devastating economic and
ecological impacts on a country or region where they become established. To sustain trade,
phytosanitary measures (which protect plant health) are enforced, usually set by the importer,
or negotiated between importer and exporter.
Existing phytosanitary measures can be prohibitive to an exporter entering the market, and so
equivalent measures can be agreed, which give an acceptable level of protection to the
importer. Equivalence can be a modification of an existing trade route, be between two
countries or on a wider scale, it can be on a single commodity basis or across a whole system.
Equivalent measures may be a direct swap of one treatment for another, or the replacement
could be a more complex system of pest management. Equivalence can offer opportunities to
developing countries and least developed countries to increase trade where it wouldn’t have
been possible before.
After a review of literature and background material, this research will comprise of three main
strands: a gathering of the different forms of agreements that equivalence has taken to date;
three selected case studies of different ways that the principle of equivalence has been
implemented; and a questionnaire sent to all National Plant Protection Organisations
The literature review and follow up research (and questionnaire responses) threw up various
agreements which can be described as a form of equivalence. These vary in how close they
are to equivalence agreements as set out in ISPM 24.
The three selected case studies are the agreement to use irradiation treatment on mangoes
exported from India into the US; ISPM 15 on wood packaging materials which offers
equivalent phytosanitary measures to achieve the mark (a universally recognised, IPPC stamp
on the wood); and the various greenhouse and nursery certification schemes between the US
and Canada.
The questionnaire comprised of 20 questions on equivalence; examining how it is
implemented and how it is perceived to work. It included questions relating to Systems
Approach and Pest Risk Assessments. It was sent with a covering letter assuring
confidentiality and anonymity to the respondents.
Results/ Analysis:
The research showed that there are many forms in which equivalence has been adopted. They
varies from a straightforward swap of one treatment for another which has been deemed by
the importing party as reaching an equivalent level of protection, to the integration of
equivalence into the original agreement. Using mutual recognition, or accepting local NPPO
inspections are variations on equivalence as outlined by ISPM 24: the case study of USCanadian greenhouse/ nursery certification schemes is particularly interesting as it
incorporated this approach, although a comparatively new scheme. The opinions on, and the
examples of equivalence on varying scales is interesting: at either end of the scale are the case
studies on US-India Mango and ISPM 15.
The questionnaire responses generated some broad findings:
Coming to an agreement of equivalence is only one stage in implementing equivalence. Even
after the huge financial and temporal commitment that carrying out negotiations on
equivalence can involve, the end result can be an agreement which isn’t appropriate for the
capacity of the exporting party.
Different countries/ NPPOs had a different underlying understanding of their rights and
obligations regarding equivalence. This was inferred from the range of answers to how useful
ISPM 24 and the 1997 revision of the IPPC are. For some it changed nothing, whereas for
others it was informative and useful.
For some NPPOs, equivalence takes a very narrow definition of a formal agreement which is
referred to as equivalence. The preamble to the questionnaire made clear that agreements not
formally referred to as equivalence agreements are still considered as equivalence agreements
in the context of this piece of research. On more than one occasion an NPPO said they were
not part of any equivalence agreements, however the researcher found evidence for their
being part of one. Other respondents did have a far broader definition based on the examples
they provided.
Discussion, Conclusions and Implications:
Some have found ISPM 24 useful, and so it is neither redundant nor without a constructive
use. It will be more useful to an NPPO which is less exposed to or less clear about
equivalency obligations and opportunities, and this is the group which it is important to
inform. For those which already engage in equivalence may make little difference, merely
reinforcing their awareness. The need for the ISPM represents a lack of consistency in
understanding or in implementation of equivalence. It is particularly important in the
development context that each country is put on an equal footing, which the ISPM does to
some extent. The limitations are seen by the existing confusion over what equivalence can be,
beyond just formal agreements.
The difference between the direct impact of ISPM 24 and ISPM 15 is that they are concerned
with a principle and specific measures respectively. Specific measures give all parties a clear
indication of what is necessary for them to achieve the desired outcome. The nature of
equivalence can make this clarity hard to come by; the substitution of a different treatment(s)
can often necessitate a case by case process and so the ISPM can’t be any more specific.
The research shows huge variations on how equivalence is implemented; this is not
unexpected given that ISPM 24 applies to 177 countries, and doesn’t represent a failure of the
ISPM. Differences reflect the different phytosanitary conditions, trading histories and
political norms of each country. Some countries are more receptive to the idea of a regional
agreement or a global decision than others and this may be down to how they usually interact
with other countries (in plant health and other areas) as much as any other practical reasoning.
The EU is a good example of where there is existing political stability and unification, and in
turn plant health is regulated on a regional scale. Where you interact normally on a larger
scale than two countries in one policy area, you may be more receptive to do the same in
another. These factors (experiences and norms) interact to inform decision making and
preferences within National Plant Protection Organisations; they form the ontology that exists
before rational decision making begins.
It is possible that the preferences of the importing heavyweights will shape the
implementation of a concept like equivalence far more than any provisions made through the
WTO and the IPPC. Equivalence agreements cannot always be implemented due to capacity
issues, resistance within the country, or a lack of communication. This could be read of
further evidence of unbalanced negotiations, as logically an exporter would not push for a
phytosanitary measure it could not enforce.
The WTO is ultimately a trade forum, so its prime focus is on trade relationships. The case
study on ISPM 15 shows how the WTO and its members need to interact with external
protocols in order to make sure free trade does not come at the cost of the environment. As a
result of ISPM 15, there has been increased take up of the use of methyl bromide as using it
can benefit trade at a low cost (the exception being within the EU). This demonstrates that
when there is an option for trade, most countries will opt for measures which benefit trade
ahead of environmental concerns. The WTO was set up by and for developed countries, and
has evolved to include developing and emerging economies.
Measures like equivalence can benefit both developed and developing markets, but only if
there is clarity and technical assistance. The literature research identified technical assistance
as one of the key interacting and supporting concepts linking to equivalence, and it is through
this investment in time and money that equivalence can be fully used by developing countries.
If there is an uneven use of equivalence it may even give developed countries further
advantages. The pursuit of equivalence as a development tool must be superseded by the two
primary goals of safety and profit. Pushing the development agenda cannot come at the
expense of plant health, and is unlikely to come at the cost of a severe or long term loss of
The possible wider policy/science implications
This discussion focuses on development and gaining market access in trade through
equivalence. Lessons can also be learnt more generally about the need for inclusion of DCs in
early stages of policy creation. Less developed countries can offer unique information about
the feasibility of implementing various measures. The bottom line is that for them to benefit
from any policy, it must work on the ground. Equivalence is a good metaphor for how any
development oriented policy must work: the status quo cannot always be directly replicated,
particularly into a country with different resources, structure and expertise. Those who work
in the country are best suited to know where adaptations need to be made, as they best know
the local circumstances.
Assumptions and shortcomings
The underlying assumption of this research is that equivalence agreements are a beneficial
tool for market access and so development. The biggest shortcoming of this piece of work has
been the difficulty in collecting data, which limits greatly the conclusions that can be reached.
The questionnaire could have been more concise, and sent out through the Regional Plant
Protection Organisations (RPPOs) because the NPPO emails provided on the IPPC website
were neither complete nor up to date.
Recommendations and gaps in the field
There must be increased discussion between developing and developed countries about the
practical issues of implementing equivalence. There must also be a forum for countries to
express in general terms the type of agreements they have come to, what has worked, and
where agreements prove unattainable. This should be anonymous and potentially confidential.
The gaps in this field are vast. Collecting data similar to the type collected through this
research, but on a far wider scale (across the entire IPPC), would prove instrumental in
assessing the worth of equivalence. Economic assessment of various agreements would be
invaluable, given that trade is a money-making business. Further research into dose responses
is also important for equivalence agreements to be carried out in practice.
The full potential of equivalence has not yet been reached. This research looks at where it is
so far, and what the benefits (perceived or otherwise) are to the countries pursuing it. The
most striking conclusion is the severe lack of data in nearly every aspect of the research. As
technical justification is imperative for agreement of efficacy, research is much needed into
treatment efficacies, and the justification of Probit 9.
Trade in the development context is all about balance. A balance must be met between overall
cost and benefit; between benefiting less developed countries and not burdening developed
economies; between phytosanitary safety, and progress for progress’ sake; and between
environmental and financial costs. If these balances can be met, then equivalence can offer
equilibrium of market access, profit, and phytosanitary safety.