Revisiting Citrus Trade Agreement With China: Prakash Paudel

The subtropical part of Nepal holds good climatic conditions for growing export quality citrus fruits, including mandarin and sweet orange. It is said that pest free citrus fruits produced from well managed orchards of Nepal hold great potential for exports. The Plant Protection Directorate under the Department of Agriculture, acting as the National Plant Protection Organisation (NPPO Nepal), is in a position to manage the orchards in a way that will make the final product to be exported pest free.

The bilateral trade protocol between Nepal and China signed in 2012 demands that citrus fruits be free from Chinese quarantine pests. The protocol, however, demands not only freedom of pests in the ultimate sink but that the products be harvested from an officially declared Pest Free Area (PFA) as well. PFA is 'the area in which a specific pest does not occur as demonstrated by scientific evidence".

Buffer zone

Plant pests, in general, have a migratory habit, and the fruit flies, in particular, have the capacity to fly several kilometres within an hour, and are also quarantine pests of China. The excellent flying capacity of fruit flies makes it technically impossible to prepare a small area, like one or two districts, free from these pests. A pest free area for these fruit flies may demand a buffer zone spanning several kilometres.

In our context, managing a buffer area to trap incoming fruit flies - to prevent their entry inside the PFA - may cost more than the expected income from fruits produced in a pest free area.  In other words, if a buffer area is not managed properly, the total size of our country might even prove small for declaring a single district free from the fruit fly.

Considering the nature of quarantine pests for citrus fruits and astringent technical criteria for declaring a Pest Free Area for fruit flies, China must revisit the bilateral agreement to relax its fastidious quarantine requirements. It is obvious that China needs citrus fruits, but it is not possible for Nepal to harvest citrus fruits in a PFA free from fruit flies.

Out of the 46 citrus producing districts, Sindhuli for sweet orange and Syangja for mandarin oranges are well known for their quality, and they are also free of several notorious pests in the final product, including several of the fruit fly species. Freedom from quarantine pests in the final product is generally accepted by several importing countries. However, it depends on the bilateral dealings between the concerned NPPOs whether the product to be traded needs to be produced in a Pest Free Area or simply in a well managed orchard capable of producing pest free products.

Several endeavours have been made globally to declare a Pest Free Area for fruit flies, but only a few achievements have been made in some developed countries. Considering the hardships of declaring PFAs for fruit flies, the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) has also developed an international standard which deals with the application of the Systems Approach (SA) to risk management.

In spite of the complexities of declaring a Pest Free Area, NPPO Nepal has been organising several rounds of meetings and workshops with the objective of looking for possibilities to declare PFA for fruit flies in Nepal. The other objective is to convey information about the astringent quarantine requirements of China that must be fulfilled by the Nepalese side. The Nepalese government is now aware of the urgency to capacitate all the stakeholders, including government agencies and the private sector. Information is being disseminated about the criteria written in the agreement among traders and orchard owners. Considering the effectiveness of the awareness activities carried out previously, NPPO Nepal has its own regular programme to create alertness regarding the requisites.

Apart from broadcasting information about the agreement, NPPO Nepal has taken a key role in strengthening the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) capacity and in updating/generating the pest database. For example, field-based monitoring surveys for citrus fruit flies are being undertaken according to the survey guidelines and survey protocol endorsed by NPPO Nepal in Syangja and Sindhuli.

Similarly, NPPO Nepal recently developed the diagnostic capacity for the quarantine pests of concern to China. Enhancing the phytosanitary capacity will certainly enhance the potential of Nepal to implement the less assiduous tasks like implementing the systems approach. The systems approach is the one and only way to replace the requirements of PFA for exporting citrus fruits from Nepal to China. The systems approach integrates several risk reducing measures to provide pest free products to the general consumers.

The integration of different risk management measures in Nepal can cumulatively help achieve the acceptable level of risk/Appropriate Level of Protection (ALOP) against the quarantine pests of China. As the fruits entering China would not cross the border of Xizang province (written in the agreement), and also since there is no citrus production site adjacent to this province for several kilometers, the Chinese government can revisit the specific risk analysis criteria to revise its appropriate protection level for that province.

If the ALOP is revised for Xizang province, Nepal can apply the well structured systems approach to minimise the risk of quarantine pests entering China. In this connection, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Programmes, considered as a major component of the systems approach, are in operation in several citrus production pockets, including Sindhuli and Syangja.

NPPO Nepal has established a mechanism to develop and undertake several workable risk mitigating measures under the umbrella of IPM. Talking about the development of a systems approach, along with the implementation of IPM programmes, NPPO  Nepal is also competent in integrating different measures on the outskirts of the production sites, for example, on the transport routes, at the collection centres and in the packing houses. Several measures can be applied throughout the different points of the supply chain. These points would see the application of risk reduction measures during the growing period and harvest; post-harvest and transportation; and entry.

Furthermore, the development, implementation and verification of the systems approach for the quarantine pests of China can be adequately documented and supplied to the Chinese government when necessary.  

Agenda for consideration

Conclusively, delegates should consult with specific professionals before signing any bilateral agreement related to the subject. If consultative discussions had taken place before signing the citrus trade agreement, it would not have been necessary to request the Chinese government to immediately revisit the protocol. Anyway, the Government of Nepal should take initiatives for revisiting the agreement with urgency. The agenda for consideration from China would imply (a) rethinking on previously applied risk analysis criteria for Xizang province to set a new acceptable level of risk and (b) allowing the entry of pest free citrus commodities that have been subjected to a systems approach of risk mitigation for Chinese quarantine pests.

(The author is Plant Pathologist/Plant Quarantine Officer, National Plant Quarantine Programme, Hariharbhawan, Lalitpur, Nepal;  [email protected])

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