(KPL) A new project to improve food safety and plant health through better governance in the Lao PDR was announced on Jan 29 in Vientiane by the European Union, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) and the International Trade Centre (ITC).

The Systematic Mechanism for Safer Trade (SYMST) project will place focus on developing a model of export value chains for selected products and provinces and target markets will be implemented by ITC in partnership with MAF’s Department of Agriculture and its provincial offices.

The goal is for the project to provide skills and knowledge needed for participating companies to improve their market-access opportunities.

It will also help facilitate business linkages between farmers and exporters, and help increase interest from international buyers.

Announcing the launch of the SYMST project Vice Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Bounkhouang Khambounhueuang said: This Project will improve food safety and strengthen the regulatory framework for control plant health and pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables.

Ambassador of the European Union to the Lao PDR Leo Faber said: SYMST project will complement our Trade-Related Assistance programme in Laos, ARISE Plus, as we do consider that a solid regularly framework for control plant health and pesticides in the fruits and vegetable sectors is deemed as a prerequisite for the integration of the Lao economy into global production chains and increased access to foreign markets.

Xuejun Jiang, Chief of ITC’s Office for Asia and the Pacific, said: ‘ITC has been expanding its collaboration  in the Lao PDR and SYMST project is uniquely positioned to foster a pilot model for safe trade in one of the major employment sectors in the country.’

Following the launch a series of activities will be carried out to help the country comply with international and regional standards related to pesticides control and plant health, that are highly regulated, especially in EU.

Technical support will be provided to watermelon farmers in Luang Namtha for export to China, rice producers in Vientiane and chilli and basil producers from Pakxe (Champak region) for export to the EU.

During the course of the project, which will run over the next two years, a particular focus will be placed on strengthening the regulatory framework for plant health control and reduction of pesticide use in the target sectors.

Support will also be provided to improve the technical capabilities of regulatory and control institutions across the Lao PDR.

The launch of the SYMST project was preceded by a gathering on 28 January of a range of stakeholder representatives from government bodies and different associations during which participants discussed the findings of the identification phase of the project, the proposed project activities and how to guide the project implementation at technical level through field demonstrations.

The SYMST will also contribute to establish a coordination and cooperation mechanism to enable actors along the supply chain to take actions on trade related issues on food safety and plant health.

ITC has been active in the Lao PDR for more than 15 years and is currently implementing three other projects in the country, all targeting the improvement of export capacities of Lao small and medium-sized enterprises.