Exporters are increasingly feeling the pressure to conform to international compliance standards if they are to enter successfully developed country markets. Food safety regulations and quality have become increasingly important globally in recent years, not only in terms of protecting the health of the consumer and ensuring food safety, but also to meet requirements for international trade. To facilitate such trade, it is necessary to implement international standards, guidelines, and recommendations for the production of safe and quality-assured foods.
In the food sector, periodic outbreaks of food-borne illnesses have led to stricter regulation, making suppliers of branded produce liable for the safety of their products unless they can show due diligence. The first thing needed by enterprises considering exporting their products is up-to-date information about the applicable technical requirements, both voluntary and mandatory, in the target markets. After obtaining the right information, enterprises have to adapt their products to export market requirements. This may require expensive investment to purchase equipment and upgrade infrastructure.
Once the product has been adapted to target market requirements, the exporter has to demonstrate compliance. For food and agricultural products, it may not be possible to export in the absence of recognized domestic ‘competent authorities’ to certify the product to the requirements of the export market. A major problem faced by enterprises exporting fruits and vegetables is the considerable time it takes to obtain market access. A profile of pests and diseases associated with the potential export product has to be determined, in order to facilitate import risk analysis in the target market. If the product has pests and diseases that are not present in the importing country, it would require treatment before gaining market access.
Exporters need to keep abreast of changes in the technical requirements for products in their export markets. Enterprises have a choice of strategic options. They can employ an exit strategy and leave difficult markets for less stringent markets or they can adopt a compliance strategy by anticipating standards and comply ahead of time. Setting up a quality infrastructure comprising standardization, metrology, testing, inspection, certification, and accreditation is complex, expensive and time-consuming. However, it is a crucial element of the export competitiveness of countries.
Meeting technical requirements will ensure that market access is obtained. However, there is a need to go beyond technical requirements and delight consumers by promoting a culture of innovation, continuous improvement and excellence.