Thailand successfully establishes inter-ministry cooperation on ePhyto certificates for exporting and importing plants and plant products
On March 30, Thailand announced the successful implementation of an ePhyto system for plants and plant products, enabling Thai exporters to apply for digital certificates online while saving time and costs compared to the paper-based system. The ePhyto system also enables document traceability and will be upgraded to allow digital exchanges with trading countries. The new system will be paperless, eliminating the need for traders to travel to DOA offices to request and collect documents. It will also lead to major reductions in the use of resources and in carbon emissions.
The announcement was made during the ePhyto Thailand Project Completion Event held at Grand Hall 2, Rama Gardens Hotel on 30 March 2023. The Food and Agriculture Counsellor from the German Embassy together with representatives from Thailand’s Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Ministry of Finance, and other relevant government departments and private sector joined the event.
Electronic phytosanitary certificates, ePhyto for short, are a digital version of paper phytosanitary certificates that certify that plants and plant products do not carry pests and diseases that could be harmful to plant health and public health or threaten economies and the environment of the importing country.
Thailand officially launched the ePhyto system operation in May 2022, signalling an important milestone for the Department of Agriculture (DOA), as well as the National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards (ACFS), the Thai Customs Department (TCD), and the National Telecom Public Company Limited (NT) as the collaborating agencies. To certify that plants and plant products are fit for export, Thai exporters can now apply for a phytosanitary certificate via the electronic system. The certificate validates that the exported plants and plant products are free from plant pests and diseases and in line with the import requirements of destination countries.
Bernd Christiansen, Counsellor for Food and Agriculture, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany said that since September 2021, the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation through Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH had been implementing the ePhyto Thailand Project by working with the related Thai authorities including the Department of Agriculture (DOA), the National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards (ACFS), and the Thai Customs Department (TCD) to upgrade the paper-based certificate system to digital format to enable certificate exchange with trading countries via the National Single Window (NSW) of Thailand. The project supported Thailand to connect Thailand’s ePhyto system with the ePhyto Hub for exchanging ePhytos electronically with trading countries already connected to the ePhyto Hub, administered by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC).
Pouchamarn Wongsanga, Project Director, ePhyto Thailand Project, said that GIZ supported the improvement of the existing DOA’s ePhyto platform to enable the connection of the Thai system to the ePhyto Hub, paving the way to exchange electronic phytosanitary certificates with trading countries connected to the ePhyto Hub. This development also promoted international trade and upgraded governmental working processes to respond to needs and changes in global trade arenas.
“As the world is changing, the electronic-based system will make transborder trade faster and cheaper, safer and more traceable by eliminating flaws often associated with producing and exchanging paper certificates. The exchange of ePhyto certificates will also reduce the risk of falsified documents, increase transparency and predictability in agrifood trade, and speed up customs clearance,” she said.
Rapibhat Chandarasrivongs, Director-General of the Department of Agriculture, as one of the agencies leading the ePhyto system implementation, said DOA issued a total of 409,279 phytosanitary certificates in 2021 for exporting volumes of 784.259 billion baht to ASEAN and global markets.
“The digital transformation has facilitated Thai exporters to exchange important data electronically, which in turn will reduce the use of paper and allow us to efficiently trace information from the destination country back to our plants and plant products producers,” he said.
With reference to the baseline study under the project, with full application of the ePhyto solution where electronical exchanges could be made with trading countries, it was estimated that around up to 166 million baht or 4.89 million US dollars could be reduced by doing away with the transport needed and lowering operation costs. This was based on the average certificate numbers issued during the years 2020-2022.
Rapibhat emphasised the ePhyto system complies with the current Bio-Circular-Green (BCG) economic model introduced by the Thai Government as a strategy for national development by applying science, technology and innovation in the agriculture and food sector. The aim is to achieve food security, sustainability and inclusiveness of Thailand’s economy, society, and the environment.
Pisan Pongsapich Secretary-General of the National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards (ACFS), saidThailand, through the IPCC Hub, has already conducted test exchanges of ePhytos with pilot countries including Australia, New Zealand, the United States of America, the Republic of Korea, Argentina, Chile, France, and Morocco. While a live exchange has been conducted with Indonesia as the first ASEAN counterpart, ACFS is also in the process of preparing one with the hub countries mentioned above and the Philippines. Data and process mapping cover both incoming and outgoing ePhyto certificate exchanges, as well as system alignment with other modes of exchange that Thailand is currently implementing, e.g. via the IPPC Hub and bilateral arrangements.
“We work to collect and manage the database of ePhyto certificates for tracking records and further exchange with future trade counterparts. The ePhyto system significantly enhances the synergy between government agencies and private sectors. This innovative digital platform enables all stakeholders to constructively share views and work together to further develop the ePhyto system to meet our traders’ needs,” he said.
Patchara Anuntasilpa, Director-General of the Thai Customs Department, as the NSW lead agency, said a series of training courses on trade and logistic facilitation had been conducted for customs staff, related agencies and private sector firms applying for the ePhyto certificates to ensure a rapid cargo clearance process, which reduces time and costs for businesses and therefore enhances trade efficiency and competitiveness. China has become the latest country stating an intention to initiate the ePhyto certificate exchange with Thailand. The Thai Customs Department is currently conducting bilateral talks with China on this matter.
“We express our full support to expanding cooperation to ensure the country’s successful electronic exchange of phytosanitary certificates with ASEAN and trade partners and enhance our trade competitiveness via National Single Window policies.”
Wichai Deecharoenkul, Executive Vice President, Digital Group of National Telecom Public Company Limited, as the NSW operator, said ePhyto has established connectivity and information exchange between government agencies and the business sector via ASEAN Single Window (ASW). NT Telecom has actively tested and developed the system to ensure seamless e-business solutions for every ePhyto certificate exchange via all protocols.
“We are proud that our well-established telecommunication infrastructure can connect our business operators and traders to exchange ePhyto certificates quickly and conveniently. We are ready to support our alliance to continue promoting trade facilitation for boosting the export and import of plants and plant products in the region and beyond.
Project Director, ePhyto Thailand Project
Project Advisor, ePhyto Thailand Project