A limitation to increasing trade of fish and fisheries products in Belize is the restricted capacity of the sector to conduct tests indicating that products do indeed meet international market standards. Funded by the European Union, a key activity of the 11th European Development Fund (EDF) Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures Project is to improve laboratory testing capacity for the fisheries and aquaculture sector in the CARIFORUM Region. As part of this activity, technical assistance has been provided to the Belize Agricultural Health Authority’s (BAHA) Central Investigation Laboratory (CIL) through training, technical guidance, and the provision of equipment. The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) is the executing body, and the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) is a major partner in the implementation of this SPS Action.
Speaking at the Laboratory Equipment Handing-over Ceremony on 8th September in Belize, Aniceto Rodriguez Ruiz, Head of Cooperation, Delegation of the European Union to Jamaica, Belize, and The Bahamas, said, “The Sanitary and Phytosanitary EPA programme in Belize is funded by the European Union, demonstrating its commitment to supporting trade and regional integration, to promote food safety and plant protection in the country. The programme aims to strengthen Belize’s capacity and regulations to ensure the safety of agricultural products such as livestock and food crops or fisheries products and promote safer protection both for domestic consumption and for export.”
As part of this programme, the European Union handed over a Microwave Sample Digestion System, laboratory testing kits, diagnostic tools, and inspection equipment to upgrade CIL’s fisheries monitoring and testing facilities.
“These tools will enable Belize to conduct accurate and reliable testing of agricultural and fisheries products, identify potential risks, and ensure compliance with international standards and regulations. The equipment will also contribute to the prevention and control of pests and diseases, safeguarding the health of consumers and ensuring the sustainability of Belize’s agricultural and fisheries sector,” Rodriguez Ruiz said.
In 2020, the most important fishing commodities exported from Belize to the US market were valued as follows, the Spiny Lobster at US$8.4 million and the Queen Conch at US$4.7 million.
Dr. Sandra Grant, Deputy Executive Director of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), shared why improving market entry is important, “Increased market access on the trade of fish and fish products requires that businesses in Belize and the Caribbean must meet the requisite standards to export, especially for the international markets. Laboratory testing services are often inadequate and pose challenges to CARICOM countries in achieving the certification of products and meeting international market standards. Therefore, the laboratory services for testing chemicals and microbial food safety parameters for fisheries products play an important role in SPS measures. This small action today will contribute to the attainment of CARICOM food and nutrition security goals, sustain trade and economic development, and improve the capacity of our laboratories across the Caribbean to conduct testing for the fisheries and aquaculture sector in the Caribbean.”
CIL will now be able to perform tests relating to environmental and residue monitoring, preparing Belize to meet testing requirements for improved hygiene and consumer safety and to fulfil high standards for exported products. Ultimately, regional and international trade of fish and fish products will be improved in the following areas: inspection, import/export certification, diagnostics, risk assessment, surveillance, and reporting. The private sector will be positively impacted at all stages of the fisheries value chain, including fishermen, fishing organisations, fish processors, exporters and exporters’ associations, and other national and regional private sector fishing associations and entities.
Dr. Natalie Gibson, Laboratory Administrator/Deputy Director of Food Safety Services at BAHA’s Central Investigation Laboratory, also delivered remarks at the Handing-over Ceremony, “Initial plans for the use of the equipment are focused on testing for such substances as mercury, lead and cadmium in fish and fishery products – these metals can harm the health of consumers when they contaminate food or water at levels that are not safe. The equipment also has many broader applications and can be used in the preparation of various sample types for elemental analysis.”