Sustainable trade cooperation does not only require government and business engagement, but also civil society participation – heard the participants of the last Trade Panel. The meeting, jointly hosted by DG Trade and DG Health and Food Safety, focused on sanitary and phytosanitary issues (SPS). At the meeting, Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EaP CSF) was represented by Natallia Harbuz (Public Private Dialogue Network, Belarus) and Vugar Bayramov (Center for Economic and Social Development, Azerbaijan). Civil society is a key stakeholder in promoting European integration and trade liberalisation – which is evident in the “implementation of [EaP] Trade Helpdesk project”, closely discussed by the Panel. In this respect, civil society organisations (CSOs) are uniquely positioned to “organise trainings and awareness campaigns”, said Harbuz and Bayramov.
While representatives of DG Health and Food Safety discussed the main elements of the SPS chapter (with presentations on market authorisations and related systems), experts from EaP countries and member states had the opportunity to exchange their experiences on implementing SPS measures. Here Bayramov took the floor to highlight the need to improve access to “trade-related information, including early warning notifications”. These should be communicated to a wider spectrum of stakeholders, which includes civil society. It was also an opportunity to inform EaP and member state experts about the latest stages of development of the EaP Trade Helpdesk, envisaged for September 2019. The EaP Trade Helpdesk is expected to facilitate trade between EU and EaP countries, as well as trade within the EaP region. The initiative (which has been advocated for and by civil society) will be a publicly accessible, online tool – which aims to create a network of focal points in each EaP country, better documenting export procedures, while increasing transparency.
In this context, the Panel discussed administrative tools that the EU has developed in order to ensure safe trade; two presentations were given on the upcoming changes to the Trade Control and Expert System (TRACES) and the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) – and the means for EaP countries to integrate in these. The meeting, officially entitled “Expert Panel on Trade and Trade-Related Regulatory Cooperation”, took place between 18-19 June 2019 in Brussels. To complement the discussions on the theoretical level, an on-site visit to the Border Inspection Post in Antwerp was organised on the second day of the meeting. Participants had the chance to talk to the representatives of the Customs and Excise Administration of the Antwerp region (Belgium) about their day-to-day duties, while addressing questions on safety and risk management.