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Dragana Stikić, Co-president Of The FIC Anti-illicit Trade & Food Committee (Nestlé Adriatic S d.o.o.)

Harmonising With The European Acquis Crucial

The legislative framework in Serbia is being gradually harmonised with that of the EU in terms of food safety and quality, though the dynamics of harmonisation differ due to jurisdictions being divided between two ministries for different categories of food products, creating a partial approach to this issue

The aim of food safety policy is to protect consumers while at the same time safeguarding the unhindered functioning of the market. The European Union is focused on the concept of confirming the origin of both input elements (i.e., animal feed) and outputs (i.e., primary production, processing, storage, transport and retail). In Serbia’s case, the most visible aspect is the harmonisation of the legislative framework in terms of product safety and quality. However, the dynamics of harmonisation are not the same for all food categories due to the division of responsibilities between two ministries. The issue is being approached only partially, while the classification of priorities in that approach remains unclear. In addition to harmonising with the EU acquis, which has been taken on in certain segments to a significant extent, we also maintain local standards, which means that there’s often a clash of requirements and implementation is rendered impossible.

The full harmonisation of regulations in the area of accession negotiation Chapter 12 – Food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy, as well as the full implementation of those regulations, should continue to be an imperative, because that’s precisely what will enable the more effective protection of consumers, prevent barriers to trade and provide for the unhindered operations of all players in the food business and the trade exchange with the EU – simplifying control bodies procedures that would ensure measures applied for the protection of health are effective, proportional and clearly directed. It is likewise necessary to ensure that participants in the food business (i.e., all those who produce, process or are in some other way involved in the food production chain) are well trained and aware of their responsibilities.

Through the White Book, we have been recommending for years that the authority of institutions be defined with regard to the interpreting of regulations in the domain of food safety and ensuring the mandatory applying of the Ministry’s official positions among all participants in the chain

The expert working group for agriculture, sanitary and phytosanitary measures within the National Coordinating Body for Trade Facilitation slowed down work on activities linked to the implementation of the action plan for solving foreign trade exchange problems and simplifying administrative procedures during the pandemic. Considering that the economy is also facing new challenges this year as a consequence of economic and political events in Europe, this is the right time to resume working on activities that were previously agreed but remain topical.

Regardless of how demanding the process of harmonising regulations is, applying them in practice is often an even greater challenge. The reasons can often be found in the misunderstanding of regulations and the unbalanced interpretating of the Rulebook, Guidelines and Instructions that are published by the competent ministry, but also in the fact that the institution’s responsibility to interpret regulations is unclear. It is often the case in practice that laboratories interpret regulations. We have been highlighting this problem through the White Book for years, with a recommendation to define the authority of institutions regarding the interpreting of regulations in the domain of food safety and ensuring the mandatory applying of the Ministry’s official positions among all participants in the chain. It is also important for the safety of consumers and the economy to ensure unified criteria for laboratories when it comes to control analyses and to clearly define the responsibilities of laboratories regarding the interpreting of regulations.

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