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SPOTLIGHT: Q&A with John Hedley

Posted on Fri, 22 Dec 2023, 12:00

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Back in 1989, John Hedley was one of the pioneers who developed the first International Standard for Phytosanitary Measure (ISPM). A former Chair of the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM), John’s contribution to the IPPC spans decades. His dedication since the early days of the first ISPMs, to phytosanitary issues around sea containers, is evident and has shaped many facets of IPPC’s work today.

The IPPC Secretariat caught up with John who is now retired in his native New Zealand.

IPPC: In brief, what was the process that led to the adoption of the first ISPM and what was your role in this process?

John: In 1989, I presented the first draft of the Principles of Plant Quarantine as related to International Trade to the 16th session of the Asia and Pacific Plant Protection Commission (APPPC) at the Republic of Korea. In 1990, this was modified at an APPPC international Expert Consultation and in 1991, by an FAO expert working group and by other regional plant protection organizations (RPPOs).

The Fourth Technical Consultation among RPPOs in 1992 recommended that the Principles of Plant Quarantine document be submitted to the FAO Conference. Along with Niek van der Graaff, the IPPC Secretary back then, I presented the document for endorsement by the 27th FAO Conference in 1993, having previously been approved by the FAO Council and the FAO Committee on Agriculture (COAG). This procedure involving FAO bodies was used before the Interim Commission for Phytosanitary Measures (ICPM) was established. The proposed membership of the Committee for Phytosanitary Measures (used before the Standards Committee was established) and a development procedure for the development of standards was presented to the FAO Conference alongside the Principles.

IPPC: Why did the world need a plant health standard then?

John: This was the time when the application of the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement was being set up. The other two ‘sisters’ had standards [the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH) and Codex Alimentarius] – so FAO’s contribution via the IPPC had to have standards.

In the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations of the General Agreement on Tariffs And Trade (GATT), it was recognized that unjustified quarantine restrictions could be used to limit the free flow of trade. The Contracting Parties to the GATT insisted that the reasons for plant quarantine measures be transparent and that the situation be improved through harmonization. This referred to “the establishment, recognition and application of common phytosanitary measures by different Contracting Parties,” and that “for plant health, the international standards, guidelines and recommendations developed under the auspices of the IPPC Secretariat, in cooperation with regional organizations operating within the IPPC framework” should not be challengeable.

IPPC: What would you consider highlights in the decades you served the plant health community?

John: As the first coordinator for the IPPC Secretariat and working alongside Niek van der Graaff, I strongly supported the development of the revised IPPC text, established a work programme and working groups to develop several ISPMS, and established the Glossary Working Group which is now the Technical Panel for Glossary.

As first Chairperson of the ICPM, the precursor of CPM, we initiated the Phytosanitary Capacity Evaluation (PCE). The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) provided funds to identify capabilities and specific areas of need in the phytosanitary systems of developing countries. We developed a questionnaire that allowed developing countries to assess their capabilities and further develop a national plan. This process would also enable developing countries to justify requests for technical assistance. The project was started by Godwin Balasingam and two senior scientists at Massey University, New Zealand. The PCE was then developed further by Felipe Canale, David Nowell, Orlando Sosa and many others.

When it came to new draft standards, I was concerned that NPPO officials did not have the opportunity to ask questions about them. MFAT provided funds for a meeting with APEC countries while the IPPC added funds for other APPPC members that were not in APEC. We successfully did this for two years and other RPPOs followed the APPPC example. Later, the IPPC Secretariat managed the meetings, which we now know as the annual RPPO regional workshops.

As former member of the Standards Committee, I provided inputs to the Glossary on Phytosanitary Terms for 22 years. I also put a lot of emphasis on ISPM implementation and the need for an ISPM that deals with contamination of sea containers.

IPPC: What is your message for the plant health community, in light of over 40 ISPMs (plus annexes and supplements) adopted to date?

John: The IPPC has been forging more partnerships with other organizations – and this needs to continue. Plant health cannot operate by itself, it is a component of so many other activities.

With digitisation, more information can be supplied to NPPOs regarding the pest status of items that are traded or moved as a result of trade. More inspections, with their results, could be transmitted with the export items. This applies particularly to sea containers.

New techniques for data collation, such as large language models (LLMs) and AI, should enable the development of hundreds of plant commodity standards that will need to be developed. It should consider the requirements of different countries and that those requirements will change as the climate of each country changes.

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