Reviving agricultural trade in the Balkans
While agriculture is at heart of the Balkans’ economic activities, only a few countries have so far managed to exploit their production and trade potential to the fullest. Ties and trade volumes within the region are stagnating and ties outside the region are limited to a few countries.
Has the formerly conflict-ridden region made progress since UNECE’s last agricultural trade event in 2011? Have the economic crisis in Greece and the subsequent reforms had any positive spill over effects? How are the smaller territories of the Balkans coping with increased trade pressures and getting their agriculture production into shape? These were some of the questions discussed at the Balkan cross-border workshop for fresh fruit and vegetables held in Thessaloniki, Greece, from 22 to 24 March 2017. Participants discussed opening trade to, from and among the Balkan countries by facilitating the movement of goods, information and documents. They were also given examples of successful market organization for local production, trade and export, and advice on implementing quality requirements and standards, organizing inspection services and devising market strategies in an environment where large retailers increasingly dominate trade.
In addition, for the first time, this workshop (with all but one of the trainers and the majority of participants being female) addressed the particular role of female farmers, traders and regulators in agricultural production and trade as well as their training needs for their increased participation in production and trade.
The practical training component increased participant’s knowledge of international and particularly UNECE’s best practice for export trade. This included produce inspection training (food safety and quality) exercises; import inspection training in the port of Thessaloniki (Greece’s gateway to the Balkan countries) and export quality assurance (in one of Greece’s largest fruit exporting companies). Greece is the largest agricultural producer and most experienced exporter of the region. It is therefore a very important partner for building new ties and linking countries.
Greece has also recently undergone wide-reaching reforms launched under the agricultural component of UNECE’s trade facilitation project, which aimed at improving agricultural export performance through more efficient and less time-consuming procedures and processes. The impact of these reforms was crucial, allowing, for example, a reduction by half of the physical inspections of fruit and vegetables shipments in just 2 years. This means no longer opening every single container with fruit and vegetables for quality inspections, thus, gaining time and money and speeding up the export process. Export managers and CEOs of fruit and vegetable companies present at the workshop stressed that there had never been more progress in this area than during the past 4 years.
There were many lessons learnt from the experience of Greece and the workshop as a whole. Functioning institutions and legal frameworks, automated documents, risk analysis, and authorizing certain traders to be inspected less have a huge impact on export processes in terms of time, money and a whole sector’s or even a country’s reputation. Reliable and sustainable traders can deliver quality produce quickly and at fair prices. Countries in the Balkans have made progress since UNECE’s last event in 2011 but the need for tying loose ends and building new ties remains a priority for agricultural trade development, trade facilitation and sustainability in this region.
For more information, please visit: http://www.unece.org/index.php?id=45371#/