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UNECE Agricultural Quality Standards boost trade and support shift towards sustainable food systems

fruit on market stall

With food part of everyone’s most fundamental needs, the sustainability of food systems has been high on the international agenda in 2021. Earlier this fall saw the conclusion of the United Nations Food Systems Summit, setting the stage for global food systems transformation. The United Nations General Assembly also designated 2021 as International Year of Fruit and Vegetables, emphasizing their vital role in human nutrition as well as urging to improve sustainable production and reduce waste. 

Agricultural quality standards play a key role for the trade in fruit and vegetables and beyond. Not only do they ensure that consumers can get high-quality produce, they are also critical for producers and sellers as they allow them to trade more easily. UNECE hosts over 100 agricultural quality standards for fresh fruit and vegetables, dry and dried produce, meat, seed potatoes, cut flowers, eggs and egg products.  

This week, the UNECE Working Party on Agricultural Quality Standards – one of the longest-standing workstreams of UNECE – brought together nearly 70 delegates from over 30 UN Member States to adopt 18 new and revised standards along with explanatory posters, guidelines and a revised sampling plan for tree nuts and dried produce. In the course of the session, the Working Party adopted the reports of its four Specialized Sessions along with new standards for Pomegranates and Sweet Apricot Kernels and the revised Standard Layout for UNECE Standards for Fresh Fruit and Vegetables. Furthermore, the Working Party adopted revised Standards for Seed Potatoes, Prunes, Dates, Carrots, Peas, Strawberries, Fresh Figs, Chinese Cabbage, Cucumbers, Watermelons, Apricots, and Cauliflower; and recommendations for Inshell Pecans, Pecan Kernels, Raw and Roasted Inshell Peanuts, Raw and Roasted Peanut Kernels and Dried Persimmon for a 1-year trial period.  

In her opening remarks, the UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova commended the Working Party delegates for their continuous efforts and commitment to advancing international trade and sustainable development through their standard-setting work. She emphasized that their work “directly contributes to sustainable production in different sectors with over 100 agricultural quality standards developed and updated on a regular basis.” She also expressed confidence that “together we can further expand the impact of our standards and our work, while building resilient and sustainable food systems”. 

A key partner in UNECE’s work on Agricultural Quality Standards, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) presented the preliminary results of a joint UNECE-OECD study estimating the impact of marketing standards and explanatory brochures on trade in selected fruit and vegetables. This is the first attempt to quantify the impact of the marketing standards, and the initial results demonstrate a significant and positive impact of marketing standards on trade, boosting trade flows by as much as 50% in some cases. The OECD and UNECE will now finalize the study and present its final results at the 2022 session of the Working Party. 

Over the past couple of years, the Working Party has also been a driving force in work to reduce food loss and waste in supply chains. Its work has included the development of a Code of Good Practice for Reducing Food Loss in Handling Fruit and Vegetables along value chains; a Food Loss and Waste Measuring Methodology for Fresh Produce Supply Chains; the adoption of Minimum Quality Specifications (MQS) for Fresh Fruit and Vegetables; and the launch of a digital blockchain-powered solution called FeedUP@UN designed by UNECE for identifying, quantifying, and tracing food lost in supply chains.  

Food loss and waste is also a critical component of the transition to more circular and resource efficient economies. In this regard, UNECE recently organized a roundtable titled “Fostering Circularity in Food Trade”. Held as part of the project on Accelerating the transition towards a Circular Economy in the UNECE region, the event explored links between circular economy and agri-food production, trade and standards, including in relation to food loss and waste.  

Note to editors  

The UNECE agricultural quality standards are voluntary marketing standards for international trade. The standards are used internationally by governments, producers, traders, importers, and exporters; integrated into commercial contracts; and referenced in legislation.  By providing a common language for trade between buyers and sellers, the standards play an important role in facilitating trade, enabling traders to be confident that they will receive produce of the desired quality even across borders. The standards also help increase profitability for producers by enabling them to receive higher prices for higher quality produce, thus stimulating high-quality production.  



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