It is necessary to further harmonise with EU legislation and improve procedures in the area of foreign trade in food products.
Although the start of the epidemic saw plenty of uncertainty regarding the functioning of the flow of goods and inspection and customs oversight, regular dynamics were quickly established in the functioning of all services responsible for controlling imports and exports. The establishment of “green corridors” in the Western Balkans, thanks to the initiatives of various international and economic organisations, and the support of governments, has ensured that trade in food products is not interrupted. And that is a positive development in terms of enabling unhampered foreign trade flows of food products during the COVID-19 Pandemic, as the food industry has not sustained great losses, and considering the fact that official controls were conducted under the same dynamics as before, the existing food safety system did not collapse.
Harmonisation with the EU, or the transposing of EU legislation, remains a great challenge, and there’s no doubt that the pace of this process was slowed by the pandemic to a certain extent. It is certain that there is still room for improvement, both in the field of harmonisation and in the field of the foreign trade of food products, because procedures are still slower than needed by the economy, and that was actually also a need of the economy during the times prior to the pandemic.
It is essential to enable electronic exchanges of data between all state institutions in the food safety chain, as well as between state institutions and the economy
This relates primarily to the applying of an adequate system of risk analysis during official controls, which would prove particularly useful under the conditions of the pandemic, as it would accelerate the pace of goods exchanges and free up the capacities of inspectorates to overcome existing challenges brought about by the COVID crisis. If the history of a business entity was to have a greater impact on whether some shipment is to be sampled and examined, that would be the first step towards simplifying this process, as resources would be directed towards those companies that have proven themselves to be non-compliant historically. It is no less important to simplify examination procedures and strengthen transparency, while enabling predictability when it comes to the holding of goods. Strengthening the system in terms of centralisation, with the aim of better connecting institutions and controls, would enable the managing of information and the consolidating of data.
Negotiations on Chapter 12 (Food Safety, Veterinary and Phytosanitary Policy) represent one of the most demanding parts of the EU acquis, and that’s due only to the broad spectrum of laws that must be transposed and strict rules for the health of animals and plants, the safety of food, animal fodder and products of animal origin, but also because of investments that are essential. Accelerating the negotiation process and opening that chapter, as well as Chapter 1 (Free Movement of Goods), would certainly contribute to building the capacity to harmonise with the EU acquis in the domain of food safety and veterinary and phytosanitary policy, as I believe that this would enable the organised and systematic transformation of local regulations in order to adapt them to those of Europe.
It is also extremely significant and important to apply digitalisation in this segment too, because exchanges of documentation with the competent authorities are still conducted via physical channels, and that has proven to be an obstacle throughout the epidemiological crisis.