Wood pallets are used to ship many goods around the world. More than US$8 billion in goods is shipped annually on pallets from the United States to the European Union (EU) alone. The wooden pallets can provide temporary sanctuary to insects and other alien invasive animals that could be harmful to human health, the environment or agriculture. Recently, several countries, have imposed regulations in response to outbreaks of long-horned beetles, requiring wood pallets to be heat-treated or fumigated before departure from the country of origin.
The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) "Guidelines for regulating wood packaging material in international trade" only approves of heat treatment and fumigation by methyl bromide as legitimate pest control measures. The guidelines are the only ones recognized by the World Trade Organization (WTO) regarding fumigation of wood packaging material.
The problem is that methyl bromide is a significant ozone depleting substance. It has proven controversial among the countries that are party to the Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting substances. After much debate they finally agreed on limited use for the purpose of fumigation. But the controversy has not gone away.
The cost of goods can also go up when new phytosanitary measures are taken. Whilst some exporters to Seychelles may have already been fumigating wood pallets, others were definitely not doing so. These new measures will impose new costs that may be passed on to us, the consumers. The difficulties that exporters have with costs of fumigation are borne out by the recent fuss between the US and the European Union (EU).
The EU, under pressure from the US, has had to postpone a new rule proposed for implementation this year that would have required wood pallets coming into the EU to be bark-free. The measure was intended to prevent tree-eating insects from entering the EU. But American makers of wooden pallets would have to spend millions and millions of dollars to de-bark pallet material.
The war on alien species is not easy or cheap. This latest offensive shows the difficulties a country like Seychelles can encounter, especially taking into account the existing constraints in the economy.
By Nirmal Jivan Shah, 16th March 2006.