WTO: 2011 NEWS ITEMS

SANITARY AND PHYTOSANITARY MEASURES: FORMAL MEETING

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NOTE:
THIS NEWS STORY 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.

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MINUTES:

  

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about SPS’s “three sisters” — the international standards-setting bodies:
Codex Alimentarius
World Organization for Animal Health
International Plant Protection Convention

The report, submitted to the full membership by a working group of 30 members, contains additional proposed actions that will continue to be discussed.

Also in the committee, Japan urged members not to overreact to radiation leaks at one of its power stations following the recent earthquake and tsunami.

Members continued to comment on each other’s SPS measures, part of the committee’s core function of monitoring how the SPS Agreement is being implemented, with the recurring themes of whether certain measures are based on science or international standards, and whether they are targeted more broadly than at the regions that are the source of genuine risks.

There were a number of questions about the new US food safety law, as well as on issues that have been discussed before such as mad cow disease, avian influenza and residues of ractopamine, which promotes leanness in pigmeat and is banned in some countries and not in others.

Members continued to debate how best to set up a system that would encourage members to make more use of mediation by the chairperson to resolve some of their differences.

And a new SPS Notification Submission System (NSS) went online just before the meeting. It allows members to enter notifications online into the WTO system, part of the on-going efforts to improve the way information is shared among members, strengthening the committee’s monitoring role.

 

Some details

Private standards

The five agreed actions cover defining private standards, sharing information, and cooperation between the WTO’s SPS Committee and other organizations. The remainder that are still under discussion include possible further work in the WTO such as developing guidelines and codes of conduct and clarifying governments’ legal obligations under the SPS Agreement — members views still differ on these.

The 30 members involved (including the EU as one member) were those that replied to a questionnaire circulated in July 2008 seeking proposals on what the SPS Committee might do in this area. They then formed an ad hoc working group, which met seven times between October 2008 and October 2010.

Among the concerns that some members have raised about private standards in food safety and animal and plant health are:

  • private standards are not always based on science
  • they deviate from international standards or from official governmental requirements (for example, for maximum residue limits)
  • there are a large number of them, and they are not harmonized
  • they are costly for suppliers complying with them and seeking certification for their products, particularly with the large number of standards
  • they are set up without transparency, consultation or systems for appealing;
  • they prescribe how measures should be applied rather than what the outcome should be, ignoring the principle that equivalent outcomes achieved by different means should be recognized
  • they pose disproportionate burdens on small- and medium-sized producers and exporters in developing countries.

But some members have also seen benefits in private standards:

  • they help suppliers comply with national and international standards when they prescribe how those standards should be met
  • they promote best practices and improved productivity
  • they give brands a better reputation and help suppliers have access to markets and credit
  • they address emerging risks in a rapid manner, filling gaps, and make it easier for international standards to eventually be adopted.

The five agreed actions for the SPS Committee are:

  • to develop a working definition of private standards related to SPS, and limit any discussions to these
  • for the SPS Committee and its three sister organizations to inform each other regularly about the work they are doing in the area — the “three sisters” are: the WHO-FAO Codex Alimentarius on food safety, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC)
  • for the WTO Secretariat to inform the committee of relevant developments in other WTO councils and committees
  • for member governments to help relevant private sector bodies in their countries that are setting standards related to SPS understand the issues raised in the SPS Committee and the importance of the international standards of Codex Alimentarius, OIE and IPPC
  • for the committee to explore co-operation with the three sisters in developing information material underlining the importance of international SPS standards

Members are still exploring how to implement a sixth “action” in which they would exchange information on private standards and develop their understanding of how these relate to international and government standards. While there is agreement to exchange information, there are differing views as to whether this should be part of the SPS Committee’s agenda.

Since the SPS Agreement mainly deals with government measures, some members doubt whether the committee can act on private sector standards. The agreement’s Art.13 includes this sentence: “Members shall take such reasonable measures as may be available to them to ensure that non-governmental entities within their territories, as well as regional bodies in which relevant entities within their territories are members, comply with the relevant provisions of this Agreement.” It does not say how this should be done.
  

Japan’s concern

Japan thanked members for their sympathy and support following the recent catastrophic earthquake and tsunami. It briefly explained the actions it has taken on food safety risks arising from the radiation leak at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and urged WTO members not to overreact by implementing “unjustifiable” import restrictions. Members listened without commenting.

It said it has restricted the distribution to the market of agricultural products potentially affected by radioactive contamination in the areas concerned.

In order to achieve this, Japan said it has provisional regulations under its Food Sanitation Act for preventing food exceeding residual radioactive contamination levels from being supplied for public consumption. The provisional levels are based on the Japanese government’s Nuclear Safety Commission’s index, in line with recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP).

Japan said it is continuing to monitor levels of radioactive contamination of agricultural products in order to prevent potential food safety risks. It is also striving to provide precise information quickly to its trading partners through the WTO, Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization and other bodies. In return, Japan asked members not to overreact.

Japan’s statement was made under the agenda item “information from members” in which it also briefed members on amendments to its Animal Disease and Infection Control Law, recent outbreaks of high pathogen bird flu and restoration of Japan’s status as a foot and mouth disease-free country without vaccination.
  

Ractopamine and other concerns

The veterinary drug ractopamine, a feed additive to promote leanness in pigs raised for their meat, has been discussed in the committee before. It was raised again, as a specific trade concern with the US continuing to question Chinese Taipei’s ban on pork products due to the drug’s residues.

A number of countries such as Brazil and several others were also concerned that Codex Alimentarius has failed to adopt residue limits for the veterinary drug despite what they feel is a lack of any scientific evidence of health risks. Brazil put this issue on the agenda, with substantive support from many.

The EU and some other European countries ban ractopamine completely, and have delayed adoption of any Codex standard. The issue will be considered again at the Codex Commission meeting during the first week of July 2011.

Four new specific trade concerns were raised, and nine previous issues were again discussed. Many members voiced concerns about the new US Food Safety Modernization Act, which the US had presented at a special session earlier during the week. This overhaul of the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) control of domestic and imported food safety will require companies supplying foreign food to pre-register. It will also require the US to inspect at least 600 foreign suppliers in the first year, the number doubling in following years.

The FDA plans to accredit third party certification bodies, which raises interesting questions of reliance on private sector companies for this purpose. A number of Members raised questions about delays, costs, de facto discrimination against small suppliers, and lack of transparency.

The EU, US and others continued to object to India’s restrictions relating to avian influenza, which they consider to be excessive. The EU found the risk assessment that India finally provided in October to be unconvincing.
  

Chairperson: Mr Flavio Soares Damico of Brazil. Mr Deny Wachyudi Kurnia of Indonesia was elected as the new chairperson at the end of the meeting. He will take over in the next meeting in June.
  

Next meetings

These dates (with informal meetings on other days in the week) could still be changed:

  • 29–30 June 2011
  • 12–13 October 2011

 

P.S.

These are some of the trade issues or concerns discussed in the meeting or information supplied to the meeting, as in the draft agenda (some other items were added in the meeting). A database of trade concerns raised is in the WTO’s SPS Information Management System, http://spsims.wto.org.
  

Information from …

Members

  • United States — Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)
  • Japan — foot and mouth disease and avian influenza situations and proposed amendments to the Animal Disease and Infection Control Law
  • European Union — information on foot and mouth disease in Bulgaria (G/SPS/GEN/1072)
  • European Union —pesticide residues legislation and the possibility of requesting import tolerances
  • New Zealand — amalgamation of the New Zealand Food Safety Authority and the Ministry Of Agriculture and Forestry (G/SPS/GEN/1071)
  • Belize — presenting its new agricultural health and food safety law
  • Korea — foot and mouth disease and avian influenza situations

Observer organizations

 

Specific trade concerns (G/SPS/GEN/204/Rev.11)

  • Import restrictions due to dioxin contamination in Germany — concerns of the European Union
  • Viet Nam’s ban on offals — concerns of the United States
  • Ukraine import restrictions on poultry and poultry products — concerns of Mexico
  • United States import restrictions on chrysanthemums — concerns of Costa Rica

Previously raised

  • India’s restrictions due to avian influenza — concerns of the European Union (no. 185)
  • Indonesia’s import restrictions on beef and recognition of the principle of regionalization — concerns of Brazil (no. 305)
  • US food safety modernization act — concerns of China and Jamaica (no. 299)
  • EC regulation no. 1099/2009 of 24 September 2009 — concerns of India (no. 300)
  • Chinese Taipei’s prohibition on ractopamine in beef and pork — concerns of the United States (no. 275)
  • EU maximum residue levels of pesticides — concerns of India (no. 306)
  • Turkey’s restrictions on products derived from biotechnology — concerns of the United States (no. 302)
  • Japan’s prohibition of certain food additives — concerns of India (no. 307)
  • General import restrictions due to BSE — concerns of the European Union (no. 193)

Information on resolution of issues

  • Greece’s inspection and testing procedures for imported wheat — concerns of Canada (no. 206)
  • Croatia’s restrictions on poultry meat products — concerns of Chile (no. 311)

This meeting’s magic number

5

… actions agreed on private standards

 

 Jargon buster 

Place the cursor over a term to see its definition:

• equivalence

• notification

• regionalization

• sanitary and phytosanitary measures

• S&D, STD, special and differential treatment

> More jargon: glossary

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