As President of the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) I see first-hand the growth in global trade of flowers and plants. It seems true that the world is getting smaller and that globalisation is now well and truly embedded within our industry. The scope for this to go further is very much there but for one thing. There is something that affects our industry which other exporting and importing industries just would not understand and that is the threat posed by plant pests and diseases.
So often it seems that just as trading in our sector increases there is some new phytosanitary threat that emerges that puts the brake pedal on our industry. Let’s face it, national governments are terrified that some new pest of pathogen will enter their country and change it forever. In many cases they have good reason to be fearful and at other times there is over-reaction, borders shut and plant health effectively becomes just an excuse for trade protectionism.
The main tool for managing this threat is legislation, but that is a blunt tool indeed. Some countries, like Australia, make it very difficult to bring plant material in and considering their island status, who can blame them. China and USA are very careful about what comes in too.
The European Union has clear controls for plant material from outside its borders but within member states it has always struggled to implement ‘single market’ principles at the same time as preventing the spread of phytosanitary threats. The Plant Passport system goes a long way but recent outbreaks, for example Xylella fastidiosa, have caused businesses to question further whether they really are protected. Most countries do not offer compensation to those affected by plant health problems so with increased global trade the industry is increasingly exposed.
Within AIPH we have noted that many of our grower association members are taking their own steps to protect their industry. Management and certification schemes, separate from governments, are emerging and growers are working to educate their supply chain on the threats. Maybe now is the time for the international industry to step up and take its own action to prevent plant health problems and, at the same time, protect its own future.
Within AIPH we are collating information on these different national initiatives and debating a role for an agreement on plant health best practice. We would welcome broader industry involvement in this debate. The alternative will be that borders will close off even more. That may suit the short-term interests of some but the future is global and it is far better that we prepare to thrive in a global market.