Stringent new European Union plant health regulations introduced

On 13 December 2016, the new EU Plant Health Regulation (Regulation (EU) 2016/2031) came into force.

This is a major overhaul of the EU’s Plant Health legislation, which has been in place since 1977. It will repeal and replace the seven existing Council Directives on harmful organisms. However, it is not fully applicable until 13 December 2019. This delay will give competent authorities and professional operators time to adjust to the new rules, as well as for delegated and implementing acts to be adopted. In the meantime, Directive 2000/29/EC and annexes remain applicable.

The new Regulation focuses particularly on the prevention of entry or spread of plant pests within the EU. It takes a more proactive approach involving surveillance, eradication, import rules, and financing. It is based on the conclusion that, to prevent future harm to agricultural production or the environment, more resources need to be allocated at an early stage.  

Plant pests currently fall under several different legal instruments, depending on their quarantine status, and this sometimes causes confusion. One of the main changes under the new regulation is that it addresses all pests – both quarantine and non-quarantine - which will be categorised following risk assessment. Three main categories of pest are identified:

  • Union quarantine pests: Not present in the EU or, if present, are localised and under official controls. These pose a high risk to plant health, and strict measures must be taken to prevent their entry or spread within the EU. They must be eradicated immediately if detected.
  • Protected zone quarantine pests: Present in most parts of the EU, but absent from certain ‘protected zones’. These pests must not be allowed to enter and spread within these protected zones. 
  • Regulated non-quarantine pests: Widely present in the EU but, as they have an impact on plant quality, seeds or planting material must be guaranteed free or almost free from the pest. 

The regulations will also identify priority pests. These are Union Quarantine Pests with the most severe potential impact on the EU economy, environment or society. They will be subject to enhanced measures including surveys, eradication action plans, contingency plans, and simulation exercises, for which there will be enhanced EU co-financing. A list of priority pests will be adopted through a delegated act by the time the new regulation is fully applied at the end of 2019.  Currently, around 250 important pests are listed in the EU; it is envisaged that around 10% of these will probably be priorities. 

The regulation also introduces specific measures concerning imports, and the movement within the EU, of certain high risk commodities; this is a new and somewhat contentious level of precaution. Annexes III and IV of Directive 2000/29* under the current rules will remain valid but, within the next 2 years, the EC will adopt an additional list of high risk plants or plant products. Importing these high risk commodities will be prohibited unless and until a detailed pest risk assessment (PRA) has been carried out to determine if imports are acceptable and, if yes, under what conditions. Once a commodity is on the priority list, a PRA will only be done on request. The PRA will be conducted by the EU authorities, but data will be needed from 3rd country competent authorities on the pests and diseases present on the crop. 

Therefore while the import of most plants and plant products from non-EU countries will in principle be allowed, they will be subject to more stringent conditions. According to the priority pest and commodity listings, some will be prohibited or subject to very strict requirements if a PRA indicates that this is necessary.

The new regulation also introduces temporary measures against new trade. For specific cases where there is little experience with trade of certain plants or plant products, and where pest risks are not unknown, it will be possible to introduce temporarily restrictions on imports, or even a ban, until more data becomes available to enable a risk assessment. This is likely to affect, in particular, small volume tropical crops for which there is currently little available pest-related data.

All living plant material (plants, fruit, vegetables, cut flowers, seeds, among others) will only be imported into the EU if accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate confirming compliance with EU legislation. This will create an additional administrative burden for traders and competent authorities, but is considered necessary to give a tighter control on imports. However, before the new regulation is applied in December 2019, further legislation will be introduced listing exemptions that will not require a phytosanitary certificate; this will cover commodities for which considerable data is already available, and they are known to be no risk to the EU. 

COLEACP is liaising with DG Health and Food Safety to fully understand the implications of the new regulation for ACP fresh produce exports. PRAs take time and resources, so it is essential for ACP stakeholders (public and private) to be fully prepared and in a position to take any necessary action to prevent an impact on trade. Key dates that will clarify what needs to be done will be the listing of high risk commodities (December 2018), exemptions to plant passports (December 2018), and the listing of priority pests (2019). 

*Annex III: Listing of harmful organisms whose introduction and spread within member states (or protected zones) is banned if they are present on certain plants or plant products; Annex IV: plants, plant products and other objects the introduction of which is prohibited in all member states (or protected zones).


For more information see:
Regulation (EU) 2016/2031 of the European Parliament of the Council
European Commission - Fact Sheet