AND PHYTOSANITARY MEASURES 89 NOVEMBER 2000 SPS
body mulls pests in wood crates, studies
draft EU emergency measure against pests in pinewood
packaging, which would affect a large share of goods
trade, generated some concern in the 89 November
2000 meeting of the WTO Committee on Sanitary
and Phytosanitary Measures.
The meeting also discussed a number of other specific
trade issues, and equivalence, a subject
which also comes under implementation
in the General Council
Among the issues generating lengthier discussion were:
draft temporary emergency measures on wood packaging
issue was raised by Canada which complained that this
measure would cover 69% of all Canadian exports of all
goods to the EU since it applies to packaging.
The draft measure covers a wide range of wood packaging
that uses coniferous wood originating in Canada, China,
Japan and the US. It is designed to protect EU forests
against pinewood nematode (Bursaphelenchus xylophilus).
The products covered would have to be either heat treated
to 56░C for at least 30 minutes and have a moisture
content below 20 per cent or have been pressure
Canada recognized the EUs legitimate need to
protect its forests against pests, but urged the EU to
follow its example by waiting until negotiations on
multilateral standards are completed in the International
Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) even if pests are
detected. Canada also urged all participants in the
negotiations to work for a swift conclusion.
Sharing Canadas concern were the US, Rep of Korea,
Japan and Chile. They complained about both the
enormous impact and the abrupt
timing of the proposed measure, which in its original
draft was due to take effect from 1 January 2001.
The EU said the measure was notified to the SPS Committee
so that WTO members could comment, and three (including
Canada) have commented so far. The draft is being
reviewed and the original target date of 1 January will
be postponed, the EU said. But it argued that an
emergency has arisen since it found numerous occurrences
of the pest. The EU added it could not wait for the IPPC
negotiations to reach agreement since they appear to be
heading for considerable delay. This is a new and
serious problem for us, the EU said.
This summary has been written by the WTO
Secretariat to help public understanding about
developments in the SPS Committee. Unlike the
it is not an official record.
concern about Australian restrictions on durian imports
Thailand said it took from 1991 to August 2000 to obtain
Australian clearance for imports of Thai durian
(oval spiny fruits containing a creamy pulp with a
fetid smell and an agreeable taste, according to
the Oxford Dictionary; stinks like hell, but tastes
like heaven, according to the Philippine
However, Thailand is concerned about the conditions,
including: the requirement that a random sample of 450
fruit have to be cut open for every consignment of less
than 1,000 fruit (the fruit is normally airfreighted
within this size); the restriction of imports to the
period from April to December; and the acceptance of only
durians grown in the east of the country.
Australia explained at length the steps it took to obtain
information from Thailand in order to make a risk
assessment, and the way the information changed over the
years. It said the number of fruits to be sampled is
justified by the requirement of 95% statistical
confidence that durian seed borers will only
be found in 0.5% of consignments, that this is an
internationally accepted standard, and that Australian
mangoes transported between certain states within
Australia also faced the same sampling requirements.
However Thailand could cut fruit that are below export
standard, Australia said. The permitted period of import
is the months when the pest will not survive in
Australia, and the accepted growing region is the only
one meeting proper standards, Australia went on. The
measure will be reviewed after a year, it added.
India, the Philippines and the EU expressed an interest
in the issue.
specific measures discussed
included a New Zealand complaint about
Indonesia maintaining a ban on fruit even though the
original infestation (a few Mediterranean fruit flies
found in May 1996) only lasted a few weeks; continued
complaints about bans on imports of bovine semen (Canada
about an Indian ban, the EU about an Argentine ban)
which, according to the OIE cannot transmit BSE even from
disease infected areas; and a complaint from Thailand
about a Mexican ban on its rice (a complaint which is
appeared on the agenda regularly for several years).
SPS measures reduce risks to consumers, livestock or
plants to acceptable levels. An acceptable level of risk
can often be achieved in alternative ways. Among the
alternatives and on the assumption that they are
technically and economically feasible and provide the
same level of food safety or animal and plant health
governments should select those which are not more
trade restrictive than required to meet their health
objective. Furthermore, if another country can show that
the measures it applies provide the same level of health
protection, these should be accepted as equivalent. This
helps ensure that protection is maintained while
providing the greatest quantity and variety of safe
foodstuffs for consumers, the best availability of safe
inputs for producers, and healthy economic competition.
Developing countries in particular say developed
countries are not doing enough to accept that actions
they are taking on exported products provide levels of
protection that are equivalent to the developed
countries requirements. This complaint has been
raised as one of the many issues in the WTO General
Council under the heading of implementation.
Informal SPS Committee consultations were held on this
before the SPS meeting. At the heart of the discussion in
the consultations was a US paper (G/SPS/GEN/212) which
outlined the US experience and argued that in many cases
equivalence agreements are unnecessary and cumbersome to
negotiate. Many participants stressed that importing
countries commonly accept products or alternative
technical treatments, but this is ad hoc or
informal. The chairman read out a summary of the
discussion, which he will use to report to the General
Council. India called for equivalence agreements between
developed countries to be notified to the WTO so that
developing countries could study them, and negotiate to
join or forge similar agreements with developed
Quite a lengthy discussion on issues raised by a
Secretariat paper on the typology of
technical cooperation G/SPS/GEN/206.
Chairing the meeting was S.I.M. Nayyar of Pakistan. The
next meeting will be in March 2001.