One of the IPPC's main activities is to establish and promote the use of science-based, internationally-agreed standards governing how plants and plant products should be handled during international trade or their movement across international boundaries, known as International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures, or ISPMs.

ISPMs cover a range of issues, from how products or product packing materials must be treated prior to export to procedures and methodologies used by agricultural inspectors in importing nations.

The IPPC also acts as an information exchange hub, promoting information sharing and transparency in international pest management and allowing participating countries to stay on top of important export requirements.  The status of agricultural pests and new developments in plant protection and risk management are also critical components.

Additionally, a new and growing focus for the Secretariat is providing developing countries with technical assistance to support their ability to implement the Convention and the ISPMs.  This support often includes the Phytosanitary Capacity Evaluation, a low-cost, comprehensive evaluation of a country's phytosanitary system that can be used to focus on the most immediate phytosanitary development needs.

The Convention consists of 177 Member countries, each of which maintains a National Plant Protection Organization. A group of ten regional Plant Protection Organizations then provide a way for countries to operate jointly at the regional level to prevent plant pests from crossing borders. An FAO-based Secretariat provides overall coordination.