WTO: 2013 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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about SPS’s “three sisters” — the international standards-setting bodies:
Codex Alimentarius
World Organization for Animal Health
International Plant Protection Convention

The calls came in a two-day meeting of the WTO’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) Committee, which consists of all 159 WTO members and deals with food safety and animal and plant health — measures having an increasing impact on trade.

They echoed a paper circulated by Brazil (document G/SPS/GEN/1253), which described food safety as an important contributor to food security, and said international standards and guidelines should be based on science, that confidence in Codex and other international standards-setting bodies should be strengthened, and that any measures that apply higher standards should also be justified by science.

“The increase in the number of SPS measures that are not based on international standards, guidelines and recommendations, or that lack scientific justification, is a point of concern that has often been raised by many members in the SPS Committee and other contexts,” Brazil observed.

The discussion of the six new specific trade concerns and the 10 previously raised and discussed in this meeting reflected that theme.

They covered; processed meat, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), restrictions related to the Japanese nuclear plant accident, orchid tissue culture plantlets in flasks, citrus fruits (a complaint by South Africa against the EU about black spot, which is the first dispute settlement case in the International Plant Protection Convention), offal, salmon, pesticide residues, sheepmeat, phthalates (materials added to plastics in food and drink containers) in wines and spirits, shrimp, mad cow disease (BSE), GMO pollen in honey, Indonesia’s port closures, and pine trees and other products (some details below).

Also on the agenda were: six items of information from members, mainly about administrative changes in Australia, the EU and Rep. Korea, but also the horsemeat scandal in the EU (see also the last meeting) and a new Food Safety Act in the Philippines; and Costa Rica’s notification of minimum residue levels for veterinary medicines in live animals (with questions from Panama).

One issue was reported resolved — Slovenia’s concern about Croatia’s measures on pork imports, dating back to 2003 and not reported solved until almost a decade later. (The Secretariat urged members to look through the SPS database to see if there are any other unreported resolutions to trade concerns involving them.)

The committee also continued to discuss two long-standing issues in informal consultations immediately before this meeting.

One is a way to make it easier for countries to use the chairperson’s mediation services for problems members have about each other’s measures and to avoid bringing legal disputes against each other — where significant progress was made towards an agreement. The other is about a working definition of private standards. (Details below)

And the committee was introduced to a new publication on invasive alien species and trade rules (see below)

 

Some details

The WTO’s World Trade Report 2012 has identified SPS measures among non-tariff barriers that are having an increasing impact on trade.

The SPS Committee’s main task is to monitor how countries are implementing food safety and animal and plant health measures under the WTO Agreement, and to discuss issues arising from that, including the work of recognized international standards-setting bodies. Its deliberations range from comments on specific measures to broader principles.

 

CODEX anniversary and good scientific practice

Supporting Brazil in praise of Codex’s work were the US, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Belize, Russia, Chile, Senegal, the EU, Burkina Faso, Pakistan, Switzerland, Norway, South Africa, Argentina, Dominican Rep, China, Cuba and Lebanon (an observer still negotiating WTO membership).

Brazil, the US and some countries also stressed the need to ensure that Codex’s own standards are also based on science without other issues intervening.

Although this was not mentioned specifically in this meeting, the call to shield Codex standards against what some countries consider to be non-scientific considerations, has in the past been raised in the WTO and in Codex itself. This is particularly about ractopamine, a feed additive to encourage growth and leanness in meat. Some countries called on Codex to agree a minimum residue level, which would allow trade. Some others ban ractopamine and for several years blocked a standard in Codex, until it was adopted by a very close vote in 2012.

The EU reminded members that even though Codex’s work is essential, the same measures are not necessarily appropriate for all countries, and that members have the right to set their own standards. Norway said that for risk management, other concerns have to be taken into account. Switzerland objected to the link between food safety standards and food security — in Brazil’s statement and paper — since the SPS Agreement only refers to food safety.

Developing countries, meanwhile, described Codex’s value in harmonizing standards and in providing technical assistance to help them meet their trading partners’ standards. They called for support for Codex’s trust funds, which enables delegates from poorer countries to participate in the commission’s standards-setting work.

The Dominican Republic, China and Cuba also called for Codex to harmonize private standards, which are stricter than governments’ standards and, they said, are not always based on science.

Lebanon urged Codex to set maximum residue levels for antibiotics and pesticides honey. Lebanese consumers consider honey to be a medicine and cannot accept any residues in honey, the delegate said.

Russia as “an old member of Codex but a young member of the WTO” also congratulated Codex.

Codex Alimentarius is one of “three sisters” recognized in the WTO’s SPS Agreement as international standards-setting bodies: the other two are the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), and the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) for plant health.

The SPS Agreement says SPS measures should either be based on recognized international standards or on scientific assessment of risks if countries prefer to set their own standards. The measures should also avoid unnecessarily obstructing trade.

 

Specific trade concerns

(Full list in “PS” below)

Among the specific concerns were:

Import restrictions in response to Japan’s nuclear power plant accident. Japan updated members on the latest situation and said radiation levels are generally within normal safety levels, and that any contaminated products could not be traded. Many trading partners have lifted their import restrictions, Japan said. However, restrictions remain in Hong Kong China and Chinese Taipei although Japan is starting to work with them on analysing the situation. China remains a major trading partner that still has import bans and Japan has not been able to discuss this bilaterally, Japan said. China said that only products from seriously polluted areas are affected.

Indonesia’s port closure (see news story on March 2012 meeting and specific trade concern 330 in spsims.wto.org) for fruit and vegetables, raised again by China, which also complained about various import licensing conditions. Support came this time from the EU, South Africa, Rep. Korea, Chile and Chinese Taipei.

Indonesia, which has said Jakarta Port was closed to horticultural imports because it lacked inspection and quarantine facilities, repeated that three other ports are available and that they are also close to population centres.

 

Informal consultations

On the chair’s mediation role, which is already available under the SPS Agreement, members made significant progress in bridging differences in views. However, they remained divided on whether the proposed procedure should expire automatically after a fixed period of time unless the SPS Committee agrees to extend it — a question related to a proposal to create a similar procedure for all non-tariff barriers in the Doha Round negotiations on non-agricultural market access (NAMA).

Chairperson Albarece said she would circulate a seventh revised text in early September but would not seek further comments on it after that since members’ positions are now well-known. Members will then simply be asked to decide whether to accept the draft procedure at the committee’s next meeting in October.

“If the committee is unable to adopt the document in October, then I would propose to take this issue off the table until there is a clear indication from members with divergent views that they are ready to move forward on this issue,” she said.

On the definition of private standards, China and New Zealand — the two countries to have recently submitted proposed definitions — have been working together to try to agree on a joint proposal for a working definition. The committee agreed to give them more time to narrow their differences over the wording.

These reflect different views — shared on both sides by a number of other WTO members — on whether private standards are covered by the SPS Agreement through Article 13.

On the implementation of proposed actions on private standards, some members have referred to similar work in the Technical Barriers to Trade Committee, which has a code of good practice and a decision on six principles for preparing international standards.

“China noted that some members were already communicating with private entities in their territories involved in the development, application and certification of private standards, including the running of some pilot-projects on private schemes,” the chairperson reported.

But she added that while the committee had agreed on five actions in the April 2011 decision (document G/SPS/55), there was no consensus on seven other proposed actions. Some members say the committee should focus only on standards that “harmonized” with those of Codex Alimentarius, the International Plant Protection Convention and the World Organization for Animal Health.

 

Invasive alien species

A new study on international trade and invasive alien species has been produced by the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF), a partnership involving the WTO and other agencies that supports developing countries in building their capacity to implement international sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures.

It includes a recommendation for the SPS Committee to consider developing guidance for countries on the relationship between invasive alien species and the SPS Agreement, so that the legal situation is clear and ensure that dealing with these species can be dealt with in governments’ regulations.

The study is available here (pdf) and here (publications page)

See also: Defending biodiversity from ‘alien species’ — role of trade rules examined

 

Next meetings

(including informal meetings) These dates could still be changed:

2013

  • week of 14 October

2014

  • week of 24 March
  • week of 7 July
  • week of 13 October

 

P.S.

These are some of the trade issues or concerns discussed or information supplied by members. The full agenda is here.

Information from members

  • Australia — Release of draft Biosecurity Regulations and Inspector-General of Biosecurity Regulations for comment
  • Australia — update on retiring the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) brand
  • European Union — update on the fraud case related to the labelling of horse meat in meat products
  • European Union — “Smarter Rules For Safer Food” proposals on animal health, plant health, plant propagating materials and official controls (G/SPS/GEN/1252)
  • Republic of Korea — update on reorganization of government agencies
  • Philippines — new Food Safety Act passed on 5 June 2013

Specific trade concerns

(Document G/SPS/GEN/204/REV.13)

New issues

  • EU temperature treatment requirements for imports of processed meat products — concerns of Russia
  • US proposed rule on good manufacturing practice and hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls for human food (G/SPS/N/USA/2502) — concerns of China
  • EU renewal of GMO approvals (EC regulation 1829/2003) — concerns of Argentina
  • Import restrictions in response to the nuclear power plant accident — concerns of Japan
  • EU import requirements on orchid tissue culture plantlets in flasks — concerns of Chinese Taipei
  • European Union — phytosanitary measures on citrus black spot — concerns of South Africa

Issues previously raised

(Numbers are “specific trade concerns” numbers in the database http://spsims.wto.org)

  • Viet Nam’s ban on offals — concerns of the European Union and the United States (no. 314)
  • China’s quarantine and testing procedures for salmon — concerns of Norway (no. 319)
  • EU maximum residue levels of pesticides — concerns of India (no. 306)
  • Turkey’s requirements for importation of sheepmeat — concerns of Australia (no. 340)
  • China’s import conditions related to phthalates — concerns of the European Union (no. 345)
  • Japan’s restrictions on shrimp due to anti-oxidant residues — concerns of India (no. 342)
  • Import restrictions due to BSE — concerns of the European Union (no. 193)
  • EU court of justice ruling regarding pollen derived from GMOs — concerns of Argentina (no. 327)
  • Indonesia’s port closure (G/SPS/N/IDN/53, G/SPS/N/IDN/54 and G/SPS/N/IDN/54/CORR.1) — concerns of China (no. 330)
  • EU quarantine measures on certain pine trees and other products — concerns of Russia (no. 348)

Consideration of specific notifications received

  • Costa Rica’s MRLs for veterinary medicines in live animals (G/SPS/N/CRI/136) — concerns of Panama

Information on resolution of issues

  • Croatia’s restrictions on imports of pork — concerns of Slovenia (no. 158)

This meeting’s magic number

50

— anniversary of Codex Alimentarius, one of the standards-setting bodies recognized by the WTO’s SPS Agreement. The Codex Alimentarius Commission was set up jointly by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (by an FAO decision in November 1961) and the World Health Organization (by a decision of the World Health Assembly in May 1963). It met for the first time in October 1963.

 

 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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