THE grains industry, along with other sectors, has been impacted by an increase of non-tariff measures (NTMs) while tariffs have reduced through the expansion of free trade agreements (FTAs).
NTMs describe regulatory tools and policy measures, other than customs tariffs, that have the potential to affect the international trade in goods.
Grain Trade Australia chief executive officer Pat O'Shannassy said in most cases NTMs were legitimate technical requirements used to protect consumers and the environment, but when they were unjustified, or not in-line with international standards and/or acted to protect domestic industries, they could act as barriers to trade.
The Australian Department of Agriculture Water and Environment (DAWE), working with Grain Trade Australia (GTA), has developed a project to bring together government and industry to identify NTMs affecting grain trade in the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) region, for both importing and exporting economies.
"Bringing government and industry together to discuss differences in regulatory approaches in the APEC region, with the intent of ensuring a more consistent approach to NTMs, provides the opportunity to create sustained long-term benefits for all economies involved in grain trade," said DAWE Biosecurity Plant Division first assistant secretary Marion Healy.
"Benefits could include reduced costs, faster border clearance, greater confidence in food safety systems, building capacity and technical support for developing economies and greater integration and facilitation of trade in the APEC region.
"GTA, with support from DAWE, undertook a consultation process in late 2018 with industry to help shape the project."
This was followed by a survey that DAWE undertook with governments and industry across all APEC economies.
The survey captured the views of import and export economies and industries to identify the key issues that impact trade of grain products.
"The survey identified key issues such as differing or missing maximum residue limits (MRLs), standards of foreign materials, weed seeds and pests with differing and low tolerance levels and a lack of standardised guidelines and systems for sampling," Mr O'Shannassy said.
"An emerging issue for many economies is the management of biotechnology products, in particular the registration process and management of low-level presence for genetically modified products."
Additionally, the use of electronic certification was seen as an opportunity to streamline trade flows and facilitate faster border clearance processes.
Use of digital technologies is emerging in this space and can greatly assist economies in reducing costs at the border, improving the speed of transactions and providing greater transparency and confidence of timely information exchange.
Dr Healy said the survey results were taken forward for discussion at a workshop held in Beijing, China on late last year.
"This workshop was focused on identifying and agreeing potential approaches to address high priority NTMs, which will be carried forward in specific APEC projects in future years, with clearly defined objectives and outcomes," Dr Healy said.
As preparation for this workshop GTA was commissioned by DAWE to undertake a global value chain project to demonstrate the breadth and impact of NTMs on the wheat milling value chain.
The outcomes of this work was presented at the workshop.
"The workshop was highly successful in bringing together government from importing and exporting economies and industry to discuss the biggest NTMs impacting grain trade in the APEC region," Dr Healy said.
"This was the first time that DAWE has hosted a workshop like this and was a great initiative for the Australian grains industry."
Key themes for priority NTMs agreed at the workshop were MRLs, SPS and related issues, transparency, and biotechnology and new breeding technologies.
Mr O'Shannassy said the workshop identified the need for science and risk-based decision making as a priority and focused on the development of interim approaches and measures that could be implemented to enable trade facilitation where there are regulatory inconsistencies.
"The issues of resources and capacity building were also highlighted, along with the importance of documentation, particularly moving to electronic documentation," he said.