From: Asian Productivity Organization, Export Potentials of Tropical Agricultural Products in Asia and the Pacific, Tokyo, 1997

by Dr. Tongroj Onchan


Over the past two decades, economic growth in Asia and Pacific has been quite remarkable. The prospect for rapid growth remains high. These economies which have enjoyed such impressive performance have followed on out ward oriented or export-promoting strategy of development. There is now widespread agreement about trade orientation and growth, that a strong relationship between outward-looking policies and high rates of economic growth exists. Trade expansion has been rapid and considerable structural changes in both the economy and foreign trade have been observed. The relative importance of agriculture and agricultural trade has been declining over time while that of the non-farm sector has significantly increased. However, agriculture remains very important for the economic and social development of most Asian and Pacific countries. In these countries, agricultural exports have been increasing in both quantity and value. Non-traditional products have become increasingly important with a high potential for growth. However, these products, including fruits and vegetables, have been facing trade restrictions, particularly in the form of safety or sanitary requirements. Under the GATT Agreement when many tariff barriers are eliminated, non-tariff measures may become more prominent in restricting the international trade in tropical products. Under GATT, an Agreement on Sanitation and Phytosanitation has been adopted to empower members to adopt measures to protect the health of human, plants or animals. This Agreement, it is feared, may have an adverse effect on the expansion of agricultural exports, particularly fruits and vegetables. The WTO, who now oversees the application of the agreement appears to be aware of this possible negative effect and has explicitly stated in the Agreement that the measures will not be used as disguised trade restrictions. Certain provisions also allow for special treatment of developing countries, particularly the least-developed ones. These may be in the form of technical assistance or delays in complying with requirements. On the issue of health and safety in agricultural trade, it is generally known that various measures, including animal and plant quarantines have been used for a long time. These measures have, in many ways, been considered as import-restricting. With the advent of the Agreement on Sanitation and Phytosanitation, these measures will be more transparent than before. Their effects on agricultural trade must be adequately analyzed. However, such analysis will be difficult since data and information on these aspects of trade are still very limited.

The case of Thailand, a world's leading agricultural exporter, may be of interest. Over time, Thailand has encountered many difficult cases of trade negotiations and initiatives, particularly on matters concerning the health and safety of human, plants and animals. Two cases involving the export of fruits to Japan and the U.S have been presented. The conclusion drawn from these cases is that it will take a lot of time, resources, expertise and cooperation between trading partners to reach acceptable settlements. They will be very high costs, particularly to the exporting country. When such measures make trade contracts unfeasible, agricultural trade is restricted.

It is clear that the responsibility for resolving these problems also lies with the exporting country. Adjustments in agricultural production, including the use of new technologies, like pesticides, must be in order to respond to health requirements, This also means that necessary information on health or safety requirements must be readily available and adequately understood by the country members. In this regard, WTO or the Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures has an important role to play.