Harmonizing food standards – minimizing trade barriers and promoting agricultural trade across South Asia

October 21, 20200

Client context/ problem statement

USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were collaborating to build the capacity of national governments in South Asia to implement science-based and risk-based food safety standards. The use of international and harmonized food standards helps in reducing trade costs by making trade more transparent and efficient, allowing food to move more smoothly between various countries. The landscape of food safety standards is different in the South Asian region and there is need for governments to invest in strong institutions and capacities to keep food safe and to ensure smooth trade flow in the changing international system of food standards & trade. Sathguru and Cornell University, were selected (through competitive bidding) as partners with responsibility to bring together government officials and private sector representatives across South Asia to discuss harmonizing trade requirements for food safety including Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) requirements.


The scope of Sathguru’s engagement included:

  • Identifying key stakeholders from public and private organizations of four South Asian nations – Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka for participation in harmonization workshop and FMSA training.
  • Designing and conducting workshop on harmonization of food safety standards.
  • Conducting Preventive Control Qualified Individual (PCQI) and Lead Instructor (LI) training to enhance the capacity in food safety across the four countries.


The project aimed at bringing together government officials and private sector representatives from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka to discuss harmonizing trade requirements for food safety and Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) requirements. To achieve this:

  • Sathguru team visited Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka prior to the workshop and had interactions with various stakeholders to have an overview of food control system, assess the current status of implementation of food safety and standards and to know about responsible agencies in each country.
  • During the assessment trips, key stakeholders were sensitized on the standards harmonization workshop and the preventive controls rule training to be held in New Delhi. These visits helped in mobilizing participation by key stakeholders from these countries for standards workshop and also in identifying the interested participants for Lead Instructor course.
  • A pre-workshop electronic survey was conducted to assess the awareness of workshop participants on SPS Agreement requirements and harmonization. The survey results helped in planning and facilitating the group discussions during the workshop.
  • Cornell/Sathguru team finalized the agenda for Standards Workshop in consultations with the USDA-FAS team. The country representatives’ presentations on ‘Current status of SPS implementation’ and ‘Food Safety – Structure and Gaps’ provided insights on the challenges and gaps existing in the SPS legislation and related infrastructure in these countries.
  • Group discussions among participants on the need for harmonization of trade standards and a case study on developing regional and national action plans to improve maize food safety presented the participants an opportunity to brainstorm, present their views and learn from group members.
  • Workshop sessions included discussion on areas of regional harmonization, defining constraints to achieve harmonization, and identifying ways to overcome challenges.
  • Post workshop, Sathguru organized a technical training on Preventive Controls in Human Foods rule of FSMA and trained Lead Instructors from four countries.

Workshop Recommendations

  • Inclusion and harmonization of Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and Good Animal Husbandry Practices in the regulatory framework.
  • Setting up clear decision-making structures for efficient implementation (e.g., a Regional and National Food Safety Authority) and reduce bureaucracy.
  • Need for greater cooperation and alignment between countries in the region.
  • Developing scientific infrastructure needed for fostering science-based standard setting – e.g., creation of regional Expert Groups.
  • Fostering and implementing Public-Private Partnerships to increase private sector involvement in all aspects of food safety management
  • Need for clear, aligned border control, inspection and trade rules to ensure smooth trade across region.
  • Develop a comprehensive regional program for technical capacity building – Risk assessment, food safety science, and training at all levels of food production, analytical capability, etc.
  • Build a strong regional network of reference and testing facilities for fast, robust and reliable turnaround of monitoring and surveillance data.
  • Prioritize/create robust funding sources for knowledge generation in food safety.


  • Enhanced the participants understanding of various science based, international trade standards. This will increase the compliance for such standards and help these countries to improve their practices and reduce the trade barriers.
  • Created a platform for the government agencies and private sector to engage in discussions for harmonization of trade standards.
  • Facilitated developing networks within and outside the countries, that will facilitate continued interactions with experts and other participants.
  • The trained PCQIs will help the industry in production of safe food and in increasing the exports. The Lead Instructor training helped in strengthening the regional capacity by creating adequate instructors for PCHF course, who could train PCQIs in their respective countries.

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Harmonizing food standards – minimizing trade barriers and promoting agricultural trade across South Asia

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