GLOBAL – A recent publication from the World Trade Organization (WTO), in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), food safety nonprofit SSAFE, the International Seed Federation (ISF), and other food safety and food crime experts, has shed light on the persistent challenge of combating food fraud and illegal practices in the global food trade.

The comprehensive report also elucidates how the WTO rulebook can play a pivotal role in addressing these issues.

The publication defines illicit trade in food and food fraud as activities involving the buying and selling of consumables that are misrepresented, non-compliant with health regulations, or smuggled outside legitimate market frameworks. Such activities severely undermine international trade integrity and public health.

The WTO rulebook, composed of several agreements, establishes a legal framework for international food trade, aiding efforts to combat illicit activities and fraud. The report highlights several key areas for improvement to deter criminals from engaging in illegal trade or food fraud.

Firstly, reducing import and export restrictions is crucial. The disparity in agricultural goods’ prices between their origin and destination, often exacerbated by government subsidies, fuels smuggling. WTO agriculture negotiations aim to simplify tariff structures, reduce high tariffs and trade-distorting subsidies, and address import and export restrictions to diminish smuggling incentives.

Secondly, modern food safety legislation is imperative. Comprehensive regulations on detecting, preventing, mitigating, and controlling food fraud can significantly reduce opportunities for fraudsters to exploit system vulnerabilities.

Conducting timely, thorough investigations is another vital aspect. Effective criminal investigations are pivotal in identifying illicit actors, uncovering fraud, and exposing public health risks associated with tainted food products. Customs authorities are essential in this process, contributing to safeguarding consumer health and maintaining market integrity.

Moreover, public-private collaboration and international cooperation are indispensable. Stakeholder collaboration and global cooperation are essential for designing preventive solutions to combat food fraud and illegal trade. Prevention is deemed more cost-effective and protective of consumers compared to reacting to incidents post-factum.

Several WTO agreements play a crucial role in ensuring food safety and combating illicit trade. The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures empowers WTO members to regulate food imports based on scientific evidence and risk assessment techniques.

The Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade addresses deceptive practices, while the Trade Facilitation Agreement aims to streamline customs procedures, reducing opportunities for exploitation.

Additionally, the Agreement on the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights assists members in tackling counterfeit food and beverages, and the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies prohibits support for illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, contributing to sustainable fishing practices and safeguarding marine ecosystems.

The publication emphasizes that these agreements collectively create a robust framework to support the fight against food fraud and illicit trade, contributing to a safer, more transparent international food market.

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