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SPOTLIGHT: Engagement and partnerships could help reduce pest risk associated with sea containers and their cargoes

Posted on Mon, 17 Jul 2023, 01:00

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© Freepick/ tawatchai07

Brisbane, 17 July 2023. In a highly globalized world, safe and uninterrupted trade is paramount for food security and economic growth. Sea containers play an important role in global trade because they serve as the thread connecting producers to consumers, keeping store shelves stocked, factories running, economies growing and getting food to where it needs to be. However, those same sea containers and their cargoes can also transport dangerous plant pests that can invade new areas and devastate agriculture, damage our environment and threaten global food security. To minimize pest risk associated with international movement of sea containers, the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) Secretariat and the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM) Focus Group on Sea Containers are working with contracting parties and industry stakeholders to conduct an “International workshop on pest risk mitigation of sea containers and their cargoes and the facilitation of international trade - defining the way forward.” The three-day (17-19 July) workshop opened today in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia and is hosted by the IPPC Secretariat and the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF).

The workshop, which can be followed live here, will enable participants to comment on the revised CPM Recommendation No. 6, which encourages national plant protection organizations (NPPOs) to minimize the movement of pests by ensuring that sea containers, also known as Cargo Transport Units, moving internationally, are as clean as possible. The workshop will also facilitate discussion on available data on pest risk posed by the international movement of sea containers and their cargoes and identify common measures to reduce potential pests and contaminants, with minimal impact on logistics. Participants will give feedback on the regulatory and non-regulatory solutions being considered by the Focus Group.

These discussions and subsequent outcomes will support IPPC’s long-term guidance on the issue by providing the Focus Group with relevant material and references to develop viable options for phytosanitary risk management. The Focus Group will then present these recommendations to the eighteenth session of the CPM in 2024.

The Brisbane workshop builds on discussions and collaboration from the international workshop on reducing the introduction of pests through the sea container pathway, held in September 2022 in London, United Kingdom. This follow-up workshop, thus, affirms the IPPC community’s commitment to engagement, dialogue and partnership to reduce pest risks associated with the international movements of sea containers.

“This workshop is an important part of engaging with stakeholders directly involved in container logistics operations and in facilitating dialogue between regulators and industry representatives,” said Gregory Wolff, the newly appointed CPM Chairperson and former Chair of the CPM Sea Containers Task Force.

“This workshop is intended to result in further identification and planning for adoption of effective and practical approaches to reduce the risks of plant pests being spread through the movement of shipping containers. The London workshop was successful in outlining an initial general framework of approaches to reduce the potential movement of plant pests. This week we hope to develop that framework further,” he added.

Participants include industry stakeholders such as container owners, container manufacturers, shipping lines, freight forwarders, packers, port authorities, marine terminal operators, and importers and exporters.

Addressing a complex global problem

Some NPPOs carried out surveys in a number of countries and found that sea containers may carry contamination, to varying degrees. Common contaminating pests and environmental contaminants include soil, plants, seeds, snails, slugs and spiders that can ride on the interior or exterior of sea containers.

Contamination of sea containers can occur at various points in the container logistics chain. Minimizing and dealing with the risk is a complex process because of the many parties involved, making accountability and custodianship an important part of potential solutions.

“With over 80% of global trade by volume being carried by sea and over 241 million global container movements annually, sea containers can act as a key pathway for the global spread of pests and diseases that affect both plant health and environmental biosecurity, such as Khapra beetle, Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Giant African Snail and the Red Imported Fire Ant,” said Gabrielle Vivian-Smith, Australia's Chief Plant Protection Officer.

According to the DAFF, if Khapra Beetle (Trogoderma granarium) was to establish in Australia, the country would lose market for its stored produce and about AUD 15.5 billion over 20 years. The pest infests more than 100 commodities, including dried plant products like grain, making them unsuitable for human or animal consumption. The good news is that Australia is now free of Khapra Beetle and is taking all measures to prevent the risk.

“This global problem needs global solutions, so we are pleased that representatives from the international plant protection community, research organisations and industry are gathering in Brisbane, Australia to collaboratively tackle this issue and find workable solutions,” she said.

“We need an effective risk mitigation strategy to minimize accidental introduction, spread and subsequent impact of these pests on plants, agriculture, international trade, container logistics and international relations," said Osama El-Lissy, International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) Secretary.

"But first, we need to quantify the phytosanitary risk precisely and raise global awareness. We need candid discussions on our shared responsibility, ensuring that all those involved can contribute to the solutions, identify best practices and determine a path forward for coordinated action. Workshop outcomes will therefore contribute to recommendations for practical and sustainable global actions," he said.

The CPM and its committees and technical groups have been working to address pest risk associated with international sea container movements since 2008 when the topic was first proposed for development into an international standard. In 2016 a CPM recommendation on sea containers was adopted and in 2021, the Sea Containers Task Force presented its report and made recommendations for addressing the problem. Since then, the CPM Focus Group on Sea Containers has been advancing this work and fostering international collaboration to prevent pest risk. As a result of this intensive work and collaboration with industry stakeholders, the IPPC has developed various knowledge products to support this goal. Below are some of these resources:

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