ePhyto: Enhancing safe trade in plants and plant products

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ePhyto: Enhancing safe trade in plants and plant products

The project aims to provide developing countries with a simple generic system for the production, sending and receipt of electronic phytosanitary certificates (ePhyto) and to establish a harmonised exchange tool to facilitate the exchange of electronic certificates as an alternative to the current practice of exchanging paper certificates. The establishment of these tools should improve the security of official communications between countries, improve trade flows by facilitating the improved border access of plants and plant products; eliminate the cost and complexity of countries developing individual systems for electronic data exchange and remove the need for countries to negotiate the necessary exchange protocols on a country by country basis.


The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) has adopted International Standard for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPMs) which provide harmonized guidance on phytosanitary certification that has contributed to facilitating safe trade. In 2012, an appendix to ISPM 12 on electronic phytosanitary certification was approved which provided guidance on the exchange of electronic phytosanitary certificates (more information here). In recent years, some Contracting Parties to the IPCC, predominantly developed countries have made significant advances in developing systems for electronic certification. These have often required considerable resources to develop the electronic tools necessary for producing and receiving electronic certificates and in negotiating agreements with trading partners to allow for exchange.

This project will provide developing countries without an existing national system with a simple generic ePhyto national system (GeNS) capable of producing, sending and receiving electronic phytosanitary certificates. It will also establish a harmonised exchange tool, referred to as a "hub" which facilitates electronic exchange based upon a single communication protocol eliminating the cost and complexity of bilateral exchange protocols. The combination of these two systems, referred to as "the ePhyto Solution" will make it easier for countries (especially those with limited resources) to start transmitting electronic phytosanitary certificates for their export consignments and to receive certificates for imported consignment thereby facilitating the trade of plants and plant products and improving access to food. The Solution is intended to be compatible with existing border information management systems and is expected to build upon such systems where possible.

Expected Results 

Establishment of the Solution

Many developing countries perceive that electronic phytosanitary certification is unattainable. Many do not possess the technical and financial capacity to develop a system for the automation of issuance and transfer of phytosanitary certificates or the financial and strategic capacity to establish complex bilateral arrangements necessary for country by country exchange. The project therefore seeks to establish the infrastructure for developing countries to produce, send and receive electronic certificates based upon a generic web-based system (GeNS). Furthermore, the establishment of an international hub that facilitates exchange between countries connected to it removes the need for complex country by country arrangements. Following the establishment of project development and service agreements between the IPPC and the United Nations International Computing Centre (UNICC), the UNICC, in collaboration with the project governance committees and the IPPC Secretariat, will articulate the specifications for the hub and GeNS and evaluate and report on existing software and hardware available for use as the Solution. The UNICC will then establish the GeNS and hub for piloting by 10-12 countries. Two to three countries that adopt the GeNS and the eight to ten countries that currently operate existing national systems for the exchange of electronic data will link to the hub and conduct exchanges to validate the performance of the system. The outcome of this pilot testing will be used to refine the Solution components for full implementation by all national plant protection organizations (NPPOs).

Establishment of business and technical tools to support the implementation of ePhyto

Many countries do not understand the complex business and technical changes required to implement electronic data exchange. Transition to electronic exchange not only impacts the operations of the NPPO, but also the organizations and entities conducting or supporting the trade of plants and plant products including traders and other government departments. As such, NPPOs should carefully undertake business analysis, strategic policy analysis, change management and technical training to evaluate and support the transition to electronic data exchange. The project therefore will work with experts to evaluate, modify, where appropriate, and develop tools that support developing country implementation of the ePhyto. Tools to be developed include advocacy materials to explain to policy makers the concept of electronic phytosanitary certification and its benefits for countries; readiness assessment questionnaires and situation analysis aimed at providing a quick assessment of countries level of readiness to adopt ePhyto; Business Process Analysis guides to evaluate business transition; technical user guides and manuals for the ePhyto Solution to explain the operation of the ePhyto Solution components; decision support tools to enable countries to take an informed decision about implementing ePhyto; and business process reengineering guides to transition countries from their current  workflows to those under an ePhyto environment.

Establishment of a business model to support the long term sustainability of the ePhyto Solution

The establishment of electronic phytosanitary certificates will result in improvements to NPPO operations by reducing fraudulent practices, increasing staff efficiencies and removing redundancies in data collection and storage. ePhyto is also expected to facilitate trade and improve border efficiencies. However, the long term sustainability of the Solution is dependent on recovery of the direct and indirect cost of operating the hub and GeNS. Working with project governance committees and with experts in finance and electronic data exchange, the IPPC Secretariat will develop proposals for the implementation of a cost recovery model for the operation of the Solution.

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Developing countries
Implementing Entities 
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
Canadian Food Inspection Agency
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)