MONTEGO BAY – The country's agro-exporters are being encouraged to ensure that their packaging facilities are operating to international standards.
Plant and Quarantine Manager at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Dalton Hastings, said that the trading partners are now more rigorous in ensuring the safety of foods entering their markets, and are demanding that exporting countries adhere to the highest safety standards.
He said that any deviation from safety requirements, resulting in unsafe food entering the trading system, can harm the country's reputation.
"One person can tarnish the industry. You are representing the country, so whatever you do must be of a certain standard that can protect the industry,"
Mr. Hastings told exporters at a technical workshop held earlier this week at the Pelican Grill in Montego Bay.
He said that all food destined for the export market, must be processed and packaged in an approved and certified facility. Packaging houses, he said, must be separate from dwellings. "You can't pack from the back of your house. It must be of sound construction with a minimum space of 1,000 square feet," Mr. Hastings stated.
He noted further that the building must have adequate ventilation, proper sanitary convenience, adequate space for boxes, and must be separate from other activity.
"You can't have a fowl farm beside where you are packing your fresh produce as the disease of plants may be different from that of animals. There must be adequate space for loading and unloading and the building must be protected against entry of insects and birds," he advised.
"You cannot store your chemical in the same area that you have your boxes, and you are doing your processing," Mr. Hastings said further.
He said that all staff and management must be properly trained, and are required to go through an orientation session at the Plant and Quarantine Division, where they will receive guidance on best practices in exporting, including how to avoid contamination of processed foods. The Division does random inspection of packaging facilities.
Mr. Hastings said that exporters must also seal and label their goods properly, as tractability is a key requirement for exporters to be certified.
The training workshop was organised by JAMPRO under the FINPYME ExportPlus Programme, which is an initiative of the Inter-American Investment Corporation (IIC) in collaboration with its parent organisation, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
The programme, which is in line with the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Aid-For-Trade Initiative, seeks to improve the ability of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) to access export markets.
It involves working with SMEs in strategic sectors to improve their competitiveness in the global market. The four major objectives are: to build export readiness of SMEs; improve market access for SMEs; increase performance and exports of SMEs; and provide export development support and assistance. The programme was launched in Kingston in October 2012.
Some 200 companies will have the opportunity to benefit from technical assistance workshops under the programme, through funding from the Republic of Korea, and support from the United Kingdom Department for International Development.