Spicing up EU-Indonesia food trade relations – The EU adopts emergency measures for Indonesian nutmeg

Today we have a most welcome return on our blog: Francesco Montanari, food lawyer in Lisbon and senior associate at Arcadia International, examining the EU emergency measures imposed on Indonesian nutmeg import.

Early this January, the European Union (EU) has decided to step up the conditions for importing Indonesian nutmeg into its market. Nutmeg is a high-value dried spice that derives from trees of the genus Myristica, plants that typically grow in a few Asian countries. Nutmeg has been widely used in European cuisine since the Middle Age for various purposes. According to some sources, its value increased exponentially during the 16h century, when belief had it that it could help preventing the plague. Currently, nutmeg sourced from Indonesia accounts for nearly 80% of all EU imports of that product, with Netherlands, Germany and Italy being the three top importers.

Indonesian nutmeg has been already under EU surveillance for some time mainly because of aflatoxins contamination. Indeed, it has been subject to reinforced checks at EU borders in the context of Regulation (EC) No 669/2009 since July 2012. A relatively high number of notifications (20) reported by EU Member States’ control authorities through the Rapid Alert System for Feed and Food (RASFF) over the period 2009-2012, in addition to some shortcomings emerging from an audit performed by the Food and Veterinary Office of the European Commission had justified an increase in border surveillance back then.

Over three years later, non-compliance levels reported in relation to Indonesian nutmeg do not seem to have substantially improved. A quick search in the RASFF database, in fact, shows that the number of RASFF notifications concerning this product have not decreased over the last three years, accounting for 23 border rejections.

It is against this background that the European Commission has recently decided to stiffen the import requirements applying to nutmeg with Indonesian origin.

The Commission has done so by adopting Regulation (EU) No 2016/24 whose provisions amend and supplement, among others, Annex I to Regulation (EU) No 884/2014, an EU emergency measure setting special import conditions for a number of imports presenting a high risk of aflatoxin contamination.

Applicable as of 2 February 2016, the new import requirements applicable to nutmeg from Indonesia imply that, in addition to the obligation of pre-notify the arrival of their consignments, the concerned business operators will have to provide the control authorities at EU borders also with:

  • a valid health certificate verified, signed and stamped by an authorised representative of the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture for food, attesting that the consignment in question has been subject to sampling and analysis in conformity with EU legislation; and
  • an analytical report detailing the results of the tests performed in the country of origin in compliance with the maximum levels set by Regulation (EC) No 1181/2006.

At their arrival in the EU, consignments will still be subject to 100% documentary checks by national control authorities and to a lower frequency (20%) in case of identity and physical checks. Business operators sourcing nutmeg from Indonesia should be aware that, under the import regime set by Regulation (EU) No 884/2014, identity and physical checks may be not always performed at EU borders, but, based on the choice made by each Member State, be carried out at designated premises located either at an external borders or in-land.

Whilst the introduction of stricter import requirements for Indonesian nutmeg may be justified in the light of the overall unsatisfactory compliance level observed over time, the impact that the newly introduced measures will have on the bilateral trade relations between the EU and the Asian country remains to be seen.

In fact, over the last few years, the EU has been particularly active in voicing its concerns over the compatibility of certain sanitary and phytosanitary requirements set by Indonesia with the applicable international trade rules (e.g. BSE, avian flu and import requirements for plants and plant products), although with limited success. This considered, the import conditions that the EU recently adopted for Indonesian nutmeg risk being an additional political irritant in the context of the already tense trade talks between Brussels and Jakarta.

EUROPHYT Annual Report 2014 – Plant health interceptions in EU

EUROPHYT is the plant health interception, notification and rapid alert system for the EU Member States and Switzerland, managed by the European Commission.

This report presents key statistics on the 2014 notifications and provides analysis of trends in interceptions, based on annual figures from the period 2010-2014. In 2014, EUROPHYT received 6,662 notifications about consignments intercepted by the Member States and Switzerland due to non-conformity with EU requirements. The vast majority of which (96%) related to plants, plant products and objects from Third Countries (TCs).

The 2014 total was slightly down on the 2013 level (6,997).

Interceptions from Third Countries

In the case of goods from TC, approximately 37% of the interceptions were due to the presence of harmful organisms (HO), approximately 30% due to non-compliance of wood packaging material (WPM) with international phytosanitary requirements for the treatment of wood material (ISPM 15), and approximately 25% attributable to documentary problems.

For interceptions due to the presence of HOs, the main commodities intercepted were fruit and vegetables (73%), WPM (11%), cut flowers (7%) and planting material (4%). Almost two thirds of the HO interceptions related to nine TCs, each having more than 100 interceptions, namely, Ghana, Cambodia, India, China, Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Uganda and Kenya. Seven commodities accounted for 71% of the interceptions on fruit and vegetables: mango, peppers, gourds (Momordica spp., Luffa spp.), basil, eggplant, and citrus fruit.

The consignments were mainly infested with non-European fruit flies, white flies and thrips. 2014 saw a very significant increase in the interceptions of false codling moth and this HO is being considered for listing as a regulated pest. Commission emergency measures with regard to citrus black spot on imports of citrus fruit from South Africa remained in place for the 2014 season. In spite of efforts made by South Africa to implement these measures, and other additional measures, there was only a limited decrease in the level of interceptions in 2014 compared to previous years.

The main sources of interceptions for the presence of HOs in Wood Packaging Material were China, India and Vietnam. There was a consistent increase in the number of HO interceptions associated with WPM from TCs since 2011. Most of the HO interceptions were attributable to India and China, where HOs continued to be encountered in ISPM 15 marked consignments, raising wider plant health and export system concerns from these TCs. The main HOs were longhorn beetles and other wood and bark insects, and pinewood nematodes. As regards cut flowers, the main HOs intercepted were Gypsophila spp., Rosa spp., Solidago spp., orchids, Eryngium spp. and Chrysanthemum spp., infested mainly with Liriomyza spp., Spodoptera spp., Thrips spp. and Bemisia spp. Bemisia tabaci (non-European populations) was the most intercepted HO with planting material.

In response to the risks posed by certain interceptions, the Commission took a number of measures to address the high level of interceptions from a number of TCs. These measures have resulted in a drop in the number of interceptions of imports from Cambodia, Thailand, Pakistan, India and the Dominican Republic. For other TCs, such as Ghana, Bangladesh and Uganda, there has been no improvement, or even deterioration despite measures taken.

Specific measures taken in relation to WPM from China have not yet resulted in a reduced level of interceptions. In the cases of China and India, there was a high number of interceptions due to the presence of HOs in WPM bearing the ISPM15 mark. This situation is a cause for concern as it means that the presence of the ISPM15 mark cannot always be taken as providing an assurance of compliance. Four HOs, considered not present or recorded from within the EU where intercepted for the first time in 2014: Tinthia cymbalistis, Psylliodes punctifrons, Acalolepta spp. and Anastrepha fraterculus. The second largest category of interceptions from TCs concerns non-compliance with the ISPM standard for the treatment of WPM (1,918 cases) originating mainly from Russia, USA, China, India, Turkey and Belarus. Such interceptions account for most of the interceptions from the Russian Federation (88%) and most of the interceptions from the USA and China (46% and 48% respectively).

Interceptions in intra-EU trade

As regards interceptions in trade between EU Member States, the number of intercepted consignments continued to decline. Interceptions concerned mainly planting material, followed by fruit and vegetables (including ware potatoes) and cut flowers. The overall decline reflects a reduction in interceptions of WPM and pinewood from Portugal and in ware potatoes from Poland demonstrating the effectiveness of improved control measures (the number of interceptions for the presence of ring rot reduced to one in 2014).

On the other hand, there were increased interceptions of commodities from NL most of which were of planting material with HOs, including Bemisia tabaci (intercepted by an EU protected zone for such), Phytophthora ramorum and a number of cases with Xylella fastidiosa (on ornamental coffee plants originating in Central America). Due to on-going efforts by MS the delays in making EUROPHYT notifications has decreased considerably since 2010, and appears to be stabilising at or around an EU average of 10 working days since 2012, although still above the two working days stipulated under EU legislation.

EU measures

New complimentary initiatives introduced by the Commission in 2014, including the publication on a non-EU trade Alert List, and the establishment of a Commission working group on Response to Emerging Risks from Imports (RERI), are helping the Commission, together with Member States, to timely identify where action needs to be taken to address risks from imports. In addition, the ongoing development of a HO outbreak database is anticipated to offer enhanced data management and plant health overview towards more integrated assessments of both import risk and outbreak management.

Notification of interceptions to the Commission

As regards notifications by Member States, 80% of all notifications were accounted for by nine MS and just three MS (UK, DE and NL) accounted for almost half of the total. Some MS (such as ES, IT, BE, GR, PT and RO) appear to have a low level of notifications relative to trade volumes.

(Source: DG Sante website)