All applications for phytosanitary certificates (PCs) in the Philippines must now be done online.
On Aug 22, the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) launched its ePhytosanitary Web Application (ephyto.intercommerce.com.ph), the system that allows exporters to apply for electronic PC—or ePhyto—and enables the Philippines to exchange ePhyto certificates with other trading countries and to do away with paper versions eventually.
BPI director George Culaste, in a memorandum to stakeholders dated August 15, said, however, that the PC will have to be printed at the Plant Quarantine Station office to utilize the accountable forms.
ePhyto is a global initiative under the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), a multilateral treaty deposited with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and recognized by the World Trade Organization (WTO), which the Philippines is a member of.
Since 2011, the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures, which oversees the implementation of the IPPC, has been encouraging electronic certification.
BPI National Plant Quarantine Services Division assistant chief Gerald Glenn Panganiban, in an earlier interview with Asia Customs & Trade, said BPI, an attached agency of the Department of Agriculture, is pushing for automation to make the Philippines compliant with the IPPC and WTO Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement.
He added that BPI’s push for ePhyto also came after seeing the benefits of automation when it implemented the electronic submission of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Import Clearance (SPS IC) applications.
Panganiban said that previously, BPI took from five days to one week to process SPS IC applications, but with automation, the process is down to 1.5 days to three days.
BPI’s ePhyto system is provided by value-added service provider InterCommerce Network Services, Inc. (INS), the same provider of other automated solutions to BPI and other DA-attached agencies.
According to the ePhyto manual, exporters just need to register through the website to apply for an ePhyto and schedule a site inspection. The system provides an audit trail indicating the date and time of the changes to and movement of the application.
Since the system is online, traders can file applications and schedule inspections anytime and anywhere there is internet connection. This saves exporters time and money compared with the current process of going to BPI’s offices to apply and wait for a schedule for inspection, then returning to the BPI office to get their phytosanitary certificate.
The system will also improve efficiency at BPI, Panganiban said, as the agency will be able to process PCs anywhere there is internet connection.
BPI issues around 100,000 PCs every year, and has more than 180 deputized officers doing inspection and certification.
The ePhyto is also seen to reduce fraud, as IPPC provides a standard format and contents that are followed by all participating countries.
Panganiban said that since the ePhyto system promotes swiftness and efficiency, BPI can then put its resources where they matter the most such as in decision making, risk management, and responding to emergencies.
INS president Francis Lopez earlier said that since data is electronically available and there will be a central database for PCs, BPI can easily generate reports and audit exporters’ compliance and performance.
The plant bureau can also use the database to hold its deputized officers accountable.
A multibillion-dollar industry, the Philippine plant industry’s main exports include bananas, pineapples, mango, and coconuts, said Panganiban.
Lopez, for his part, said exporters will be encouraged to do more business since requirements and regulations are easily available for checking and compliance. – Roumina Pablo