DEPUTY DIRECTOR-GENERAL ALAN WM. WOLFF

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Good morning.  My name is Alan Wolff, Deputy Director General of the WTO.  It is my pleasant task to welcome all of you to Geneva and to the WTO this morning.

The WTO is very pleased to host the International Forum on Food Safety and Trade here at the WTO, with the invaluable support of FAO and WHO.

Food-borne diseases have an important impact on public health. National authorities are the first defense against the spread of disease.  Clearly, all governments at every level have a strong desire to assure that food sourced domestically as well as imported is safe to consume.  All authorities need functioning food control systems to ensure that imported food is safe; consumers need to be able to trust that it complies with the same food safety requirements as domestically-produced food. On the other hand, exporters need to comply with importing countries' food safety requirements. Tariffs are seen often as a primary barrier to trade.  However, the way in which standards are applied to imports can block trade in a food product entirely.  For this reason, a lack of capacity to meet food safety requirements can be a key barrier to participation in international trade, especially for exporters in developing countries, and more generally for MSMEs.

The importance of the interlinkages between trade and food safety requirements was recognised by WTO Members when they negotiated the SPS Agreement, now agreed to by all 164 Members of the WTO and covering 98% of world trade. By requiring that food safety requirements be based on science the SPS Agreement has made an important contribution to protecting public health while at the same time minimizing unnecessary obstacles to trade.  Without the free movement of safe food, populations that suffer a deficit in production, especially in an era of increasing variability of weather patterns, would see their people go hungry.  In less dire circumstances, inability of any producers to meet food standards deprive farmers of income and consumers of choice. 

Helping to ensure that Members have the capacity to implement food safety measures at home and to comply with food safety requirements in their export markets is a key priority for the WTO. Aid for Trade is required to enable developing countries to take advantage of trade opportunities. The Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) as well as the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF) are examples of partnerships in which the WTO participates to build capacity in this area.  These are cooperative efforts in which a wide range of countries participate as donors and as recipients of assistance.

Thanks to STDF support, over 70 projects have helped farmers, processors, traders and governments boost their capacity to meet international food safety standards, protect consumer safety and gain improved access to global markets. Across Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia, STDF projects have also helped farmers to use lower-risk pesticides on tropical crops, thereby meeting international food safety standards and facilitating safe trade. 

The importance of this work will only increase over time. Demand for food will increase as the world's population grows, consumption patterns and consumer preferences evolve, supply chains become more complex, and climate change leads to changes in growing conditions. In addition, technological change has an impact of food production, on the tools and solutions available for food safety, and on trade practices. This meeting will allow for a timely substantive exchange on these accelerating trends.

Under the overall umbrella theme "The Future of Food Safety", the First FAO/WHO/AU International Food Safety Conference took place in Addis Ababa in February this year. The first few sessions this morning will build on the discussions in Addis Ababa, in particular on the burden of foodborne diseases and the need for investment in improved food safety systems; and on food safety, healthy diets and trade.

I look forward to the discussions in these first sessions and tomorrow; and to the proceedings this afternoon, with the participation of the Directors-General of WTO, FAO, WHO and OIE, as well as to contributions from the African Union and from several ministers.

Now I will hand over to Dr Miyagishima, Director of Food Safety and Zoonoses at WHO, who will moderate the first session this morning.

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