phytosanitary measures deal with food safety and animal and plant health standards. The
WTO does not set the standards. The WTOs SPS Agreement encourages member countries
to use standards set by international organizations (see box), but it also allows
countries to set their own standards.
These standards can be
higher than the internationally agreed ones, but the agreement says they should be based
on scientific evidence, should not discriminate between countries, and should not be a
disguised restriction to trade.
The provisions strike
a balance between two equally important objectives: helping governments protect consumers,
and animal and plant health against known dangers and potential hazards; and avoiding the
use of health and safety regulations as protectionism in disguise.
The following issues
are among those raised in the lead up to the ministerial conference. It remains to be seen
whether they will be accepted for further work, or if they will be included in
negotiations. These issues could be considered implementation of the existing
agreement, or be studied by a working party without necessarily leading to negotiations to
revise the SPS Agreement. Countries may decide they would prefer not to re-open the SPS
Clarification of vague provisions back to top
A number of members,
developing countries in particular, say they want to see the wording of the agreement
tightened, and some voluntary commitments turned into mandatory ones.
For example: Article 2
refers to equal treatment for countries where identical or similar conditions
prevail. Some developing countries complain that their products are not being given
equal treatment because the identical or similar conditions are being
overlooked. They would like the term to be clarified. Some countries would also like to
see more developing countries included in agreements where governments recognize each
others SPS measures as equivalent, including inspection and certification
The SPS Agreement uses
phrases such as a reasonable period of time in provisions on giving advance
warning of new regulations, or on allowing developing countries an opportunity to adapt
their exports to developed countries higher standards.
Proposals range from:
a simple call for the relevant time-period to be clarified, to specifying at least
12 months for developing countries to adapt to new regulations. Several countries
want the whole of Article 10, which deals with special and differential treatment for
developing countries, to be mandatory.
Some countries see the
clarification as part of improving the implementation of the SPS Agreement. Others say it
involves interpreting or modifying the agreement and therefore it should be included in
the new negotiations. Some also say implementation issues have already been discussed in
the SPS Committee during the review of the agreements operation and implementation
(which took place in 1998), and the committee should continue to be the forum for these
developing countries concerns back to top
In addition to seeking
clarification on the above issues, a number of developing countries have expressed concern
about their lack of resources for implementing the agreement. Among the burdens are:
- the obligation to keep
fellow members informed, through the WTOs SPS Committee, about their regulations
- monitoring new
regulations in their export markets
- the difficulty of
demonstrating sufficient scientific evidence to justify their own measures or challenge
those of others
These countries are
calling for both technical assistance, and more time to comply.