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Monday, 30 April 2012

Pakistan seafood retains access to the EU market by demonstrating food safety

Pakistan has rich fishery resources. A primary source of rural income for centuries and directly employing over one million people, the fishery sector plays an important role in Pakistan’s economy. Its products are exported to many countries, and especially to the European Union (EU), which takes about half its total exports.

However, in 2007 the Pakistan fishery industry suffered a serious setback: the EU found many contamination risks in the fish supply chain. It curtailed seafood imports from Pakistan, citing health and safety issues, in particular a lack of traceability records, a deficient cold chain in seafood production and unhygienic conditions on fishing vessels.

To alleviate this situation, UNIDO, with funding from the EU, is assisting, through the Trade-Related Technical Assistance Programme (TRTA), with the improvement of hygiene, quality management and traceability along the fishery supply chain, from fishing vessels to processing plants and on to the point of export.

The project is introducing sanitation and hygiene related procedures and traceability systems to Pakistani businesses along the entire supply chain enabling them to control the biological, chemical and physical food safety hazards that may arise during the production process. All of this guarantees that safe products are delivered to consumers.

To make sure that proper procedures are fully adhered to, the project has developed a comprehensive inspection manual for the Marine Fisheries Department (the EU designated Competent Authority for seafood exports) so that it can monitor fishing and freezer vessels and the processing and storing of fish and fishery products according to accepted food safety and hygiene norms.

Training in local languages is critical. The project has been training hundreds of fishermen, boat owners, inspectors and mole holders from diverse communities and social groups so that they become aware of good hygienic practices and the need to conform to hygienic requirements.

UNIDO has also assisted with the upgrading of more than 250 boats and trawlers to ensure hygienic conditions, improving capacity in the management of the fish harbour facilities, providing technical advice and installing hand-held traceability scanning systems in processing plants so that they conform to EU requirements in traceability. This has led to an investment on behalf of the Government of over USD 800,000 for the renovation of fish auction halls in Karachi to improve quality control.

This support for the Pakistan fisheries sector is embedded in a wider trade capacity-building programme that is upgrading compliance infrastructures and services for other key export sectors such as agro-food, textiles, fans and cutlery. In total UNIDO has assisted 19 of Pakistan’s testing laboratories in the upgrading needed to gain accreditation to the ISO/IEC 17025 standard. Although this set of acronyms and numbers may not mean a lot to many people, it is an international recognition essential for the product to be accepted by international markets.

Following a positive evaluation of the first phase of the programme by the Government and the EU, a second phase has been launched in cooperation with the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). When the corrective measures have been fully implemented, it is envisaged that the ban on seafood exports to the EU will be lifted, the fishermen’s livelihoods restored and the industry’s contribution to Pakistan’s economy fully re-established.

For more information about the project, please email: tcb@unido.org