The Philippine Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) will implement an electronic system that will automate the application and release of phytosanitary certificates in a bid to make the export of plant and plant products easier and more efficient.
BPI director George Culaste, in an interview with PortCalls, said pilot implementation of the electronic phytosanitary (ePhyto) system is targeted for the second quarter.
The ePhyto system will allow exporters to apply for phytosanitary certificates online and enable the Philippines to exchange ePhyto certificates with other trading countries and eventually do away with paper versions.
An ePhyto certificate is the electronic equivalent of the paper phytosanitary certificate and guarantees that a plant or plant product for export is free from pests and diseases, and conforms to other phytosanitary requirements by the importing country.
BPI National Plant Quarantine Services Division assistant chief Gerald Glenn Panganiban explained that 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), of which the Philippines is a member.
Since 2011, the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures, which sees the implementation of the IPPC, has been encouraging electronic certification.
Panganiban 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 (SPS) Agreement.
He added that BPI’s push for ePhyto also came after seeing the benefits of automation when they implemented the electronic submission of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Import Clearance (SPS IC) applications.
Panganiban said that previously, BPI took five days to a week to process SPS IC applications, but now, after automation, the process is down to 1.5 days to three days.
Culaste added that the automation project complies with President Rodrigo Duterte’s policy that permits should be processed by government agencies within 72 hours.
BPI’s ePhyto system will be 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.
The ePhyto system will have no cost to the government, but requires a “very minimal” service fee from users.
Panganiban said stakeholders in a meeting a month ago signified their support for the of BPI project.
Benefits of ePhyto
Once fully implemented, Panganiban said, the ePhyto system will facilitate the issuance of phytosanitary certificates and reduce, if not eliminate, fraudulent certificates.
Since the system is online, traders can file applications and schedule inspections anytime and anywhere, as long as there is internet connection. This also saves exporters time and money compared with the current process where they have to go to BPI’s offices to apply, wait for a schedule for inspection, then return to the office to get their phytosanitary certificate.
The system will also improve efficiency for BPI, Panganiban said, as the agency will be able to process phytosanitary certificates anywhere as long as there is internet connection.
BPI issues around 100,000 phytosanitary certificates every year, and has more than 180 deputized officers doing inspection and certification.
The ePhyto is also seen to reduce fraud, as IPPC provides 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 faster to emergencies.
INS president Francis Lopez, during the same interview, said that since data is electronic and there will be a central database for phytosanitary certificates, 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.
Asked if the system can help raise the country’s volume of exports of plant and plant products, Panganiban said it can, as BPI can focus on value-added services to exporters and promoting the Philippines’ plant and plant products and their access to other counties.
He further noted that the system also supports BPI’s transparency, which can build trust and facilitate negotiations with its trading partners. Transparency, he added, is a requirement under the WTO SPS Agreement.
A multibillion-dollar industry, the Philippine plant industry’s main exports include bananas, pineapples, mango, and coconuts, among others, said Panganiban.
Lopez, for his part, said exporters may be encouraged to do more business since requirements and regulations will be easily available for checking and compliance.
3 stages, 3 partners
BPI’s ePhyto system will be implemented in three stages starting April, and initially involve three countries—Australia, New Zealand, and Netherlands—which have already agreed to the electronic exchange.
The first stage is to establish interconnectivity with the three partner countries. Lopez said this will allow BPI quarantine officers to verify whether the ePhyto complies with the BPI-issued SPS IC prior to the arrival of shipments.
The second stage is the online application and issuance of ePhyto, while the third stage is sending by BPI of the ePhyto to the three partner countries.
For the initial implementation, Lopez said BPI might start with exporters from Davao and some parts of Luzon.
The target, Lopez said, is to have the system running fully by the second quarter so that by the second half of year, the country can join the ePhyto Hub, a centralized global system that can receive ePhyto certificates from exporting countries. In turn, the importing countries can access and receive the certificates through the hub.
The ePhyto Hub is a project by the IPPC that aims to facilitate the exchange, eliminate fraudulent phyto certificates, reduce costs, and enable all countries to eventually eliminate paper phytosanitary certificates.
Once BPI’s ePhyto system is connected to the ePhyto Hub, the Philippines will no longer need to enter bilateral agreements with trading partners because it can already exchange ePhyto certificates with all countries connected with the ePhyto Hub.
Asked if BPI’s ePhyto system will be interlinked with the administration’s TradeNet, a Web-based platform that will act as the country’s national single window, Panganiban said the target is to do so.
However, since TradeNet is still being pilot tested and not yet fully operating, Panganiban said they want to “move forward” with the ePhyto.
Panganiban said with automation, they expect requirements to be reduced also, as they plan to stop requiring documents that exporters have already complied with in their transactions with other government agencies.
Meanwhile, birth pains are to be expected when the ePhyto system is implemented, but BPI and INS assure they will be assisting exporters all the way. – Roumina Pablo