Most countries that import fruit and vegetables expect that the produce arrives healthy, clean, and free of pests and diseases. The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘phytosanitary’ as an adjective meaning, “relating to the health of plants, especially with respect to the requirements of international trade.”
A phytosanitary inspection carried out in New Zealand therefore concerns itself with ensuring that the produce we intend to export to an overseas destination meets the plant health related expectations of the importing country. These expectations are typically summarised in product specific documents called Importing Country Phytosanitary Requirements (ICPRs). The New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) provides on its website links to the phytosanitary requirements of many of our export trading partners.
Phytosanitary / Endpoint inspections are in most exporting countries conducted by inspectors employed by the countries’ regulators. In New Zealand, these inspections used to to be carried out by the then Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry (MAF) inspectors. In the 1990s, New Zealand changed from produce exports being inspected by MAF Inspectors to MAF authorising appropriately qualified service providers to inspect the produce on MAFs behalf. These organisations are can either be Independent Verification Agencies (IVAs) or Ministry Approved Organisations (MAOs).
Since the initial introduction of IVAs all those years ago, changes other than MAF becoming MPI have also occurred. An MAO can be an independent entity offering phytosanitary services, a packhouse, an export company, or a logistics provider, with staff qualified to operate at that level.
The responsibility hierarchy is best summarised in the following way:
- MPI has the overall responsibility and is the competent authority for assuring the importing countries that their phytosanitary requirements are met by the New Zealand fruit and vegetables entering their country.
- An IVA provides independent inspection and verification service on behalf of MPI.
- An MAO, once approved by MPI, has the ability to carry out the work required to satisfy importing country phytosanitary requirements.
- MPI typically does not engage directly with an MAO. The MAO assessment and audit process is managed by an IVA, with the IVA recommending to MPI when an MAO has attained the necessary skill level to act in that capacity.
- In addition to working with MAOs on MPI’s behalf, an IVA is also able to conduct end point inspections as and where required.
The phytosanitary relationship between countries is managed through the International Plant Protection Convention, an international agreement on plant health with more than 180 member countries.