THIS NEWS ITEM IS DESIGNED TO HELP THE PUBLIC UNDERSTAND
DEVELOPMENTS IN THE WTO. WHILE EVERY EFFORT HAS BEEN MADE TO ENSURE THE
CONTENTS ARE ACCURATE, IT DOES NOT PREJUDICE MEMBER GOVERNMENTS’
POSITIONS. THE OFFICIAL RECORD IS IN THE MEETING’S MINUTES
enhanced informal meeting on Article 6 (regionalization),
30-31 January 2006
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Almost five days of informal and formal meetings also discussed
special treatment for developing countries, China’s transitional review for
2005, the latest situation on avian influenza, mad cow disease, foot and
mouth disease, sulphur dioxide in cinnamon and other trade concerns, several
of these also related to “regionalization”.
Tension emerged between transparency and the measures countries impose. Some
members complained that they were being penalized for notifying the
occurrence of disease or pests, because this led to some other countries
restricting their products unreasonably.
The meeting began on 24 October 2005 and was suspended after a few essential
agenda items had been discussed, because of the heavy workload before the
December ministerial conference in Hong Kong. The rest of the meeting was
rescheduled for 1–2 February 2006.
Regionalization back to top
The key concept here is recognition that an exporting region is
“disease-free” or “pest-free” (or has a low incidence of pests or diseases).
Among the diseases discussed under regionalization are regulars in the SPS
Committee: bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow disease), avian
flu, foot and mouth disease, fruit fly, classical swine fever and others.
Almost two full days were spent discussing this subject in various formats.
These included informal meetings in which 15 members described the way they
confine outbreaks of disease or pests to zones or regions, several calling
for guidelines to be discussed in the SPS Committee. Two key standards
setting organizations — the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), and
the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) — also reported on the
standards they have set up or are discussing.
Major differences remain between: countries that are keen for the “-free
status” of their exporting regions to be recognized by importing countries
quickly and without excessive red-tape, particularly after the
standards-setting organizations have done so; and countries that take a more
cautious approach to recognition.
A group of countries, mainly Latin American, said it wants to start drafting
guidelines. Chile has proposed a form for countries to notify that they have
recognized (or rejected) pest- or disease-free zone (G/SPS/W/181).
Argentina has identified “critical points of delay” in attempts to get zones
and Colombia has proposed a flow chart of necessary steps in an attempt to
make recognition easier (G/SPS/GEN/611).
However, some other countries maintain that the committee should wait until
the two international organizations have made progress on their work. For
example, Japan wants to see the OIE and IPPC develop technical and
administrative guidelines first and says WTO members should review these
guidelines based on their experiences (G/SPS/GEN/605).
One example from the informal consultations illustrates the problem, at
least as some countries see it. Canada described its handling of an outbreak
of a highly pathenogenic strain of avian influenza in 2004 in British
G/SPS/GEN/613). Some countries restricted
imports of products from the region, while others acted against imports from
all of Canada, even though the outbreak was limited to a small area
separated from the rest of the country by the Rocky Mountains, Canada said.
Reporting to the formal meeting, Chairperson Gregg Young identified four
themes from the informal discussions: the work of the international
standards-setting bodies and the SPS Committee; procedures and guidelines
for countries to recognize disease and pest conditions in each others’
regions; predictability and avoiding “undue delays” in recognizing regions;
and transparency. Some members said “confidence” should be added to the last
point — the need for importing countries to have confidence in the systems
in place in the exporting countries.
These will broadly be the focus of further work. Members differ, sometimes
strongly, on some questions, such as whether proposed guidelines should only
deal with steps that governments should take to consider others’ regions, or
whether to include deadlines in order to avoid “undue delays”.
Article 6 of the SPS Agreement requires governments to recognize regions
within or straddling other countries as being safe sources (disease- or
pest-free or with low incidence) for imports of food and animal and plant
products, instead of basing their measures entirely on national boundaries.
As with SPS standards in general, members do not have to follow the
regionalization standards of the OIE or IPPC, but are encouraged to do so.
Exporting countries want to avoid import restrictions on products from their
entire territories when outbreaks are confined to a region. The cost of
establishing that regions are free from disease or pests can be high. “Many
members noted the difficulty in committing to such long-term and sustained
investments if recognition by their trading partners is unpredictable,” Mr
Young said in his report on the informal discussions.
“From the importing members’ perspective, risks associated with potential
introduction of pest and diseases merited cautious approaches to recognition
of pest- or disease-free status,” he reported. Bilateral recognition of
regions’ status can be made easier if trust and confidence can be built up
through repeated contact and high quality veterinary and plant health
inspection services, he said.
Several countries said regionalism is important for them both as importers
The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE, see document
G/SPS/GEN/625) and the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC,
G/SPS/GEN/626) are working on regionalization.
Countries can ask the OIE to inspect and recognize regional status for four
diseases: foot and mouth disease, rinderpest, contagious bovine
pleuropneumonia, and BSE.
Specific trade concerns back to top
Avian flu. In addition to updates on the latest situation, the committee
discussed whether over-reaction to avian flu might impede the global
attempts to tackle the disease because countries would be discouraged from
Under several different agenda items and in documents, various members
described the situation and their actions on both the serious and less
serious (high and low pathenogenic) versions of avian flu.
Turkey updated the committee on its latest situation: 67 outbreaks of the
more serious (the high pathenogenic H5N1 strain) in 31 provinces (out of a
total of 81) almost entirely in backyards or small holdings and mainly along
wild bird migration routes; 21 human cases, with four deaths, 12 recoveries
and five still being treated; and no cases detected in large commercial
farms. Turkey also described its actions: slaughter, quarantine and
surveillance zones, cleaning and disinfecting, etc. The problem is global
and must be tackled globally, Turkey said.
Colombia reported in detail on avian flu recently discovered in a
municipality and the actions it has taken, explaining that this is a non-notifiable
sub-type H9 (H9N2) and not the more dangerous H5 and H7 sub-types. However,
the transparency has backfired because countries have imposed restrictions
on its poultry products, Colombia complained. Canada argued a similar point
about an outbreak of low pathenogenic flu, and complained about some
countries’ blanket ban on imports of poultry products from all or nearly all
sources. The EU had a similar complaint.
The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) supported these complaints.
It also cited the case of import restrictions some countries imposed on
products from Croatia after health authorities found high pathenogenic avian
flu in wild swans that they had shot in order to monitor the situation in
migrating birds. This unscientific response discourages transparency and
could therefore impede global attempts to keep track of the disease, the OIE
Cinnamon. Sri Lanka, the world’s largest exporter, said EU restrictions on
sulphur dioxide (SO2) in cinnamon block imports and hurt over 200,000
producers. It asked the EU to justify the ban when sulphur dioxide is
allowed as a preservative, antioxidant and antibrowning agent for other
spices such as ginger, and dried vegetables. Sri Lanka asked the EU to
suspend the restriction until Codex can agree on a standard.
The EU Commission said Sri Lanka has a strong case. The problem arises
because it has no standards for sulphur dioxide in cinnamon, the EU said. It
offered to help Sri Lanka apply for approval for a standard and to seek
support from the European Parliament and the member states. The EU said it
is aware of the importance of cinnamon for large numbers of subsistence
farmers and has no intention to hurt their interests. It is looking at a
number of options and will deal with the question urgently.
The Secretariat of Codex Alimentarius, a joint FAO/WHO organization on food
safety, noted that the Codex Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants
will be meeting in April. It encouraged Sri Lanka to bring the cinnamon
issue to the attention of that committee.
Foot and mouth disease. Brazil told members about an outbreak in Mato Grosso
do Sul on 1 October and the measures it has implemented. It assured its
trading partners that all corrective measures are in place and asked members
to limit their export restrictions to the affected state and to the relevant
products. As a major beef exporter Brazil said it would ensure the beef it
supplies continues to be safe. The EU said it is following the outbreak and
stressed that it too applies “regionalization” (implementing measures based
on affected regions rather than on political boundaries) and has done so
with Brazil in the past. However, this outbreak is in a region authorized to
export beef to the EU, so this region and two neighbouring ones are
restricted. The EU will continue to import from other regions, it said. The
EU added that it has identified weaknesses in traceability and
transportation of cattle and urged Brazil to tighten up its practices.
Apples. New Zealand objected in strong terms to the length of time Australia
is taking to accept its apples and the repeated demands for information for
new risk assessments over fireblight. New Zealand Ambassador Crawford
Falconer personally made the complaint, referring to his country’s 80-year
attempt to gain access. He accused Australia of doing everything to “delay,
prevaricate and frankly to prevent our trade.” Supported by the US and EU,
New Zealand said the recent WTO dispute ruling in the
US-Japan apples case showed
that mature apples do not spread fireblight. “Yes the countries involved are
different, but the science is not,” Amb.Falconer said.
Australia said the latest risk assessment is open for comment until 30 March
and encouraged all concerned to supply scientific information and to express
any other concerns. It said it would continue to work bilaterally with New
Other issues. Also discussed were various concerns about a number of
countries’ measures on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow
disease), a review of the EU’s animal health policy and private sector
standards. See full list below.
Special and differential treatment back to top
A report to the General Council is due by the end of 2006. In the discussion
that took place in October and in an informal session on 30 January, members
differed on how to deal with this. The current focus is on proposals from
groups of developing countries and work envisaged in the committee’s 30 June
2005 report to the General Council (the 13-page
which includes the proposals). Some of these developing countries said they
plan to revise their proposals, but added that revision is difficult without
counterproposals from other countries.
The committee’s 2005 report (G/SPS/35) includes a number of
points that members have agreed should be “initial elements” for their
further discussion (paragraph 43). Several members urged the committee to
move ahead with these practical actions to help developing countries.
On one question members did agree: they will postpone their review of the
procedure to enhance transparency of special and differential treatment (G/SPS/33)
until the first meeting in 2008. This procedure was agreed in October 2004;
see news story
Discussions will continue.
China’s transitional review back to top
The EU, US and Australia said bilateral cooperation with China on its SPS
regime is working well. Among the EU’s questions were some on China’s
inspection system for establishments eligible for export. The US’s numerous
questions included queries about China’s measures on BSE (whether China is
following international standards for risky and low-risk materials) and
fireblight (whether China’s measures on apples, pears and plums follows the
legal interpretation of the ruling in the US dispute with Japan over
apples). China explained how it is applying its measures, with some new
standards being studied by its experts. It said technical assistance and
exchange of experiences will help. China replied to questions on its
transparency by observing that it has notified a large number of measures.
(Details in document
G/SPS/38 of 1 November 2005)
Next meeting back to top
29–30 March 2006, with informal meetings on 27-28 March
P.S. back to top
These are some of the trade issues or concerns discussed in the meeting:
Turkey — update on avian influenza situation
Colombia — update on avian influenza situation
Australia — outcomes of simulation of disease outbreak
Bolivia — advances in the eradication of foot and mouth
Canada — update on Canada’s BSE import policy
United States — actions regarding bse
EU — review of the EU’s animal health policy
EU — entry into effect of the EU upgraded food and feed legislation
Canada’s import restrictions on Chinese Taipei’s enoki mushrooms — concerns
of Chinese Taipei
Israel’s lack of phytosanitary import legislation — EU concerns
Israel’s import restrictions on EU beef due to BSE — EU concerns
Japan’s import restrictions on exports of eu beef due to BSE — EU concerns
Import restrictions on EU exports of live birds, meat, meat products and
other derivates due to avian influenza — EU concerns
Japan’s implementation of new maximum residue levels for pesticides,
veterinary drugs and feed additives — concerns of the US
EU restrictions on cinnamon — concerns of Sri Lanka
Thailand’s FDA rule 11 — concerns of the US
Japan’s positive list system — concerns of China
Australia’s import restrictions on New Zealand apples — concerns of New
EU requirements for wood packaging material — concerns of the US
US phytosanitary import restrictions (including schlumbergera and other
plants in growing media) — concerns of the EU
Japan’s import restrictions on EU exports of animal and plant products —
administrative procedures — concerns of the EU
Venezuela’s import permit procedures for potatoes, meat and onions —
concerns of Canada
Indonesia’s FMD-related restrictions — concerns of Argentina
Panama’s restrictions on dairy products — concerns of Argentina
Thailand’s temporary suspension of importation of live poultry and poultry
carcasses from the state of Durango, Mexico — concerns of Mexico
Costa Rica’s phytosanitary requirements on fresh oranges from Nicaragua —
concerns of Nicaragua
Greece’s inspection procedures for wheat — Canada’s concerns
Information on Paraguay’s foot and mouth status
Chile’s BSE situation
Mexico’s amended regulations
Peru’s fruit fly control programme.
Find out more … back to top
WTO website SPS gateway
(To search for documents cited here, insert the document number in the
Chairperson: Mr Gregg Young, US