Why Food Safety and Food Quality Standards in Trade for Development?

Benefits go way beyond assuring public health standards — they are a precondition for revenue generation in cross-border markets
Shrimp processing at Ristic GmbH in Costa Rica

On the road towards implementing the 2030 Agenda, trade is as much a potent as a critical instrument — especially for the least developed countries. Using very concrete terms, the signatories of the 2030 Development Agenda have called on the industrialized countries to increase their support for the least developed countries in the area of trade. For no insignificant reason: The stimulating effects of cross-border buying and selling of goods and services on a country’s economy are mostly undisputed in political science. Though there are some countries’ leaders who fear being overpowered by vastly stronger trading partners, the general conviction is that it is overall beneficial to all sides, contributing to increased employment, food security and poverty reduction — and thus to many SDGs.

“The treatment of trade across the 2030 Agenda reflects the view that trade can, when well-regulated, contribute to growth and sustainable development. The SDGs therefore include several targets linked to a variety of trade-related policy reforms (‘trade-related targets’) as means of implementation.”

The least developed countries are often only marginally involved in international and regional trade flows. This is in part due to their products not meeting the standard requirements of target markets. In April 2019 the issue was mooted at the Geneva Forum on Food Safety. Some interventions highlighted that globalised trade had increased concomitant dangers of food having been produced in one country inadvertently affecting the health and diet of people living in another. In recognition of the entailed hazards, the efforts to crank up global food safety measures have become more important than ever before.

For the induction into global value chains, it is a fundamental prerequisite for the products to be compliant with food quality standards and technical protection regulations. This must be taken into account when small and medium-sized enterprises are seeking to enter international or regional markets.

Typical challenges for SMMEs when entering cross-border markets

  • National food safety standards are often not comparable to those in the target markets across the border — Local regulators are in demand to harmonise rules and regulations, ideally by adopting international food safety standards and by installing corresponding quality compliance processes.
  • A lack of appropriate quality management systems within in the entire value chains in-country — Food safety as a regulatory quality standard must be a priority goal at every part of the concerned value chain, from production to harvest, processing, storage, distribution, all the way to preparation and consumption. This is indispensable to achieve product traceability, protect the environment and safeguard public health.

Food safety standards are indispensable

Food safety standards can be misused as a pretext to unfairly raise the market entry bar for unwanted competition from outside, which would constitute an inadmissible non-tariff trade barrier as per WTO rules.  As such many producers in least developed countries view higher food safety standards in trading blocks for example as a means to hamper the integration of their countries in global value chains.

While there might be cases of malpractice and instrumentalization of the standards — which are difficult to prove in practice as rules and case reality are not as clear-cut as one would wish them to be — it can be no doubt that rules are enforced for reasons of consumer protection for the most part by far. Science-based food safety measures and international standards play an indispensable role in protecting consumer health. For example, to sufficiently limit real risks to consumer health, food standards are urgently required as it is the case with aflatoxin contamination in cereals and nuts.

Effective food safety systems and trade facilitation should not contradict one another. Governments can, for example, harmonize their food safety measures with Codex Alimentarius standards. This way they can ensure a high level of food safety protection while simultaneously minimizing trade restrictions. Streamlining of food safety processes and border checks, making food safety requirements and procedures more transparent and improved interagency cooperation can also become avenues to strengthen food safety in trade.

Capacity development on food safety standards is an entry point for value chain promotion

Given the mentioned importance of food safety, it is evident that capacities to manage the keeping of these standards are necessary to actually facilitate the entry of many cross-border markets and thereby generate revenue from these transactions. GIZ should therefore continue investing in this area.

Some examples

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  • Improving food safety at food producer and trader level by the means of training on HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control points), support for certification schemes, information on market requirements etc. Project examples: Sustainable Economic Development Programme in Kyrgyzstan, the Promotion of Market Oriented Agriculture (MOAP) in Ghana, ComCashew and the Green Innovation Centers (GIAE) in various countries.
  • To improve the standard management systems: Installation of effective and efficient quality infrastructure (laboratories, inspectors, division of responsibilities and tasks within institutions, etc.), capacity building of service providers such as trainers or auditors. An upcoming GIZ-PTB Trade for Development measure in Benin has been developed.


The article has been provided by Andrea Jost (andrea.jost@giz.de) and Stefan Pletziger (stefan.pletziger@giz.de).


The topic will be discussed in depth at the next SNRD Africa conference during the session of the PPARD working group.