Sanitary and phytosanitary measures

How do you ensure your country's consumers are being supplied with food that is safe to eat — “safe” by the standards you consider appropriate? And how can you ensure that strict health and safety regulations are not being used as an excuse for protecting domestic producers? The  Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures sets out the basic rules on food safety and animal and plant health standards that governments are required to follow. Together with the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement, it seeks to identify how to meet the need to apply standards while avoiding disguised protectionism.

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Introduction

The SPS Agreement allows WTO members to set their own standards on food safety and animal and plant health. But these standards must be based on science, applied only to the extent necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health, and not arbitrarily or unjustifiably discriminate between countries where identical or similar conditions prevail.

Members are encouraged to use international standards, guidelines and recommendations but may adopt higher levels of protection if there is scientific justification for it, or if they are based on appropriate assessment of risks. The SPS Agreement allows countries to use different methods of control, inspection and approval procedures to verify compliance with adopted standards. Transparency regarding governments' SPS regulations is a key provision to avoid unnecessary barriers to trade.

More information about the SPS Agreement is available here. More on standards and safety can be found here. The SPS E-Learning Course is aimed at providing a deeper understanding of the SPS Agreement.

Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures

The SPS Committee is the forum where WTO members discuss issues related to the implementation of the SPS Agreement and potential trade concerns. All decisions are reached by consensus. Information on the chairs of the SPS Committee can be found here.

In June 2020, the SPS Committee adopted the Fifth Review on the Operation and Implementation of the SPS Agreement.

In June 2022, the “SPS Declaration: Responding to Modern SPS Challenges” was adopted at the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12).

All major decisions and documents on the SPS Agreement’s implementation can be found here.

Members’ transparency toolkit

Transparency is a core principle in the WTO. According to Article 7 of the SPS Agreement, members shall notify changes in their sanitary or phytosanitary measures and provide information on their sanitary or phytosanitary measures in accordance with the provisions of Annex B. The Members' transparency toolkit contains all the relevant information for members to fulfil their transparency obligations regarding SPS measures.

Useful tools

The WTO Secretariat has developed a number of tools to assist members' transparency activities. All SPS online tools can be accessed from the ePing SPS&TBT Platform.

Disputes

The “WTO Analytical Index: Guide to WTO Law and Practice” is an article-by-article guide to the interpretation and application of the WTO agreements by WTO bodies. It covers the jurisprudence of the WTO Appellate Body, panels and arbitrators as well as related decisions and other significant actions taken by other relevant WTO bodies. Disputes relating to the SPS Agreement are available here.

Standard-setting bodies and other observer organizations

The SPS Agreement encourages members to base their sanitary and phytosanitary measures on international standards, guidelines or recommendations and to participate in their development and review. The Agreement also mandates the SPS Committee to develop a procedure to monitor the process of international harmonization and to coordinate with the relevant organizations.
Which are the relevant standard-setting organizations for the SPS Agreement?

Other observer organizations

Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF)

The STDF is a joint initiative of the WTO, World Health Organization, World Bank, World Organization for Animal Health, and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization for enhancing developing countries’ capacity to meet SPS standards. Work includes sharing information on technical cooperation, and finance for projects. For more information, read the STDF's newsletter.