WTO News Item, 14 November 2008
A programme set up by the WTO and other agencies to help developing countries deal with international standards on food safety and animal and plant health has won high praise from an independent evaluator.
The assessment came in the second independent review of the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF), a programme for helping developing countries improve their expertise and their capacity to analyze and implement international standards on food safety and animal and plant health — officially “sanitary and phytosanitary” measures. The STDF is housed in the WTO Secretariat.
The evaluator was Dr Stuart Slorach, formerly of the Swedish National Food Administration and former chair of the European Food Safety Authority's management board.
He concluded that the STDF's overall performance is “judged to be good and in many important areas very good”, albeit with a handful of reservations. The facility “carries out an important role that no other single body would be able to accomplish,” he said.
“Coordination is one of the two principal aims of the STDF and it is primarily in this area, rather than acting simply as a project funder, that its future probably lies, since here it has a comparative advantage and can play a unique role in assisting developing countries in the future,” Dr Slorach wrote.
“Although the STDF is just less than halfway through the current biennium, it seems to be well on track to complete the activities shown in the Operational Plan 2008-2009, providing the funding situation can be improved to at least meet the funding target of CHF 5 million per year. Apart from the recommendations given below, this reviewer sees little reason to change the Medium Term Strategy of the STDF (2007-2011).”
According to Dr Slorach,, there is a need to “make the STDF's existence and activities more widely known and to raise its profile. Responsibility for doing this should be shared by the Secretariat and the partners, donors, observers and recipient countries.”
He also made a number of recommendations for improving the STDF's work, including information flow and the STDF website.
The evaluation will now be circulated to WTO member governments through the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Committee and discussed at a 16 December 2008 meeting of the STDF Policy Committee at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.
The review concludes overall that the STDF's coordination activities are developing well and are already having an impact in some areas. These include
The STDF has also been successful in coordinating with donors to help fund some projects that it has approved but has been unable to fund itself, the review says.
In addition, although still at an early stage, the work on the fruit fly problem in West Africa is progressing well and shows promise for the future, it says. This work focuses on assessing needs and assistance in eight least-developed countries and on promoting a coordinated response.
Since the beginning of 2006, the STDF has been successful in attracting a large number of applications for grants for projects (80) and for preparing projects (31).
The STDF unit in the WTO Secretariat has provided assistance in identifying possible projects and in preparing applications for project preparation grants. This is highly rated in the review, and much appreciated by developing countries lacking technical and other expertise needed to develop these proposals.
The STDF now has a rich portfolio of projects and project preparation grants covering a wide range of sanitary and phytosanitary issues. At one end of the scale are basic projects aimed at stimulating national awareness of how important it is to able to meet food safety and animal and plant health requirements. At the other end are narrower, more technical projects aimed at finding solutions to specific problems that prevent a product from accessing international markets.
The review notes that the STDF is currently facing serious funding constraints and is unable to fund all the projects it approves, at least not at the time it approves them — and in some cases not at all. More effort should be made to broaden the donor base and to try to get longer-term commitments from donors, the report says.