e-Certification taking off in South Africa

After a period of talks and preparations since the beginning of this year South Africa and the Netherlands have started to work hard on the use of electronic certificates for export and import.

Both exporting and importing companies have an interest in the rapid and predictable transit of their shipments at the border. The globalization of production and the growing number of “just in time” deliveries make this interest even larger. There is also a growing interest for government actions at the border. Security is one other reason for this growing interest. Also, managing the associated health risks of international trade is another major concern with implications for both human health and animal and plant health.

Combining these interests, the government can be innovative in their risk assessments and inspections. One of those innovations is the use of digital business documents. When the government already has digital information for a shipment before it arrives, a large part of the risk analysis and administrative inspections can be executed before the shipment arrives. Consequently, inspections can be focused on physical risks.

The veterinary and phytosanitary export certificates are important documents for border inspections. When they are available in a digital format, and when they are exchanged directly between the Authority in the country of origin and the Authority in the country of destination, fraud can be prevented and the inspections improved.

In the Netherlands, automated systems are currently available for Import, and they are able to receive electronic certificates from third countries. An automated system for Export has been implemented too. This system is able to produce electronic certificates (XML in the UN-CEFACT-standard) for the Authority in the country of destination. As these are based on international standards developing them together with the Netherlands means they can also be used for exchange with other countries that develop based on the same standards.

The Netherlands has already established agreements and working systems with some 13 countries all over the world (ranging from Kenia and Australia to Russia and China). South Africa is the next country to get working systems with. The South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) has made an agreement with Fruit SA do develop an import- and exportsystem and to establish an e-certification platform that can exchange electronic certificates with other countries. DAFF has the intelectual property and ownership and Fruit SA delivers expertise to build the system. This will be a  multi-annual project. The Netherlands is involved to provide knowledge and advice on best practices. The Netherlands provides also the exchange platform for the electronic certificates.

During a high level bilateral committee in the Netherlands on 14 September the first realtime sending of an electronic phyto certificate from South Africa and the entry into the Netherlands Import system was achieved. This is the first small step in the development to take out the paper out of the supply chain.

Fruit SA’s Paul Hardman sending realtime an e-phyto from Durban

Next steps will be to link and make full use of available electronic information (from systems like Phytclean) and to include other products. The first product that has been worked on is citrus, other fruits and also veterinary products will be included during next phases. At the same time DAFF is working on an electronic importsystem together with SARS. Receiving electronic EU export certificates will be part of the same project.