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Committee agrees on treatment for developing countries

The SPS Committee, meeting 1–3 April 2003, agreed in principle on a procedure for governments to make known the flexibility given to developing countries when they apply new measures on food safety and animal and plant health. It also discussed a number of other issues.

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Special and differential (s&d) treatment for developing countries

The SPS Committee adopted, in principle, a procedure proposed by Canada to ensure greater responses to specific requests for special and differential treatment, and transparency regarding these responses.

Origins: When the committee reviewed recommended transparency procedures in March 2002, Egypt proposed adding an “S&D box” to the form used for notifying SPS measures to the WTO, so that the notifying government could spell out any special treatment for developing countries, such as technical assistance, or more time for these countries to adjust to the new requirements.

At the June 2002 meeting, Canada suggested as an alternative that members agree to consultations whenever a developing country has identified a problem relating to a notified SPS measure. The results of this consultation would then be notified to the SPS Committee. The Canadian proposal (G/SPS/W/127) was circulated at the November 2002 meeting.

> Download G/SPS/W/127 (Word format, 4 pages, 38 KB)
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This time: Many countries supported the Canadian proposal as one useful step to address one aspect of the problem, while recognizing that adopting the Canadian proposal would not imply that the committee had completed it work on this.

Several countries said they would put forward additional proposals for other possible actions.

The US offered to design a pilot project on how an importing country might identify which developing countries would be affected by a new SPS requirement. The EU stressed the need for assistance to help developing countries establish effective enquiry points to screen notifications and identify potential problems, in consultation with producers.

The committee adopted the Canadian proposal in principle, subject to the development of a more detailed explanation of how the procedure is to be applied.

The Committee also discussed other possible S&D measures, and will continue at its June meeting.

Implementation of equivalence provisions

The committee examined clarification of the last outstanding issue regarding its decision on implementing the equivalence provisions of the SPS Agreement.

Origins: One longstanding implementation issue has been how to make operational the SPS Agreement’s provisions on equivalence (Article 4) — governments accepting that different measures used by other governments, which provide the same level of health protection for food, animals and plants, can be equivalent to their own.

In October 2001, the SPS Committee adopted a decision on equivalence which essentially provides guidelines to importers and exporters. In agreeing to this decision, several members asked that three guidelines be further clarified. In Doha, ministers charged the SPS Committee to expeditiously develop a programme for further work on equivalence.

An ambitious work programme was adopted in March 2002, and in line with this work programme the Committee agreed the clarification of two guidelines in November 2002.

At this meeting: The committee discussed a draft proposal for clarifying the third guideline, which deals with comparing what is required from supplying country with the importing country’s own measure. Argentina proposed that the SPS Committee adopt the guidelines for judging equivalence developed in one of the Codex Alimentarius committees.

Other members are concerned that the Codex guidelines might not be appropriate for applying outside of the limited scope intended by Codex.

Argentina also wants the committee to consider modifications to the already agreed clarification of one of the other guidelines, on the importance of historic trade when judging equivalence. The Committee agreed to hold at least one additional informal meeting in the interval before its next meeting to consider Argentina’s proposals.


China presented the results of an evaluation of compliance with the recommended notification procedures. This issue will be further discussed by Members, but reaffirms the need for technical assistance to developing countries to enable them to make effective use of the SPS transparency provisions.

Specific trade concerns

A growing number of members are using the meetings to raise specific trade concerns. Virtually one full day was devoted to this. Among the issues raised were (full list of issues at end):

Us bioterrorism legislation: This will require all enterprises to be registered if they intend to ship any food products into the US, and many members expressed concern. The US encouraged members to submit their comments in writing on each piece of implementing legislation notified by the US.

Australia’s quarantine regulations: Many members complained about the long delays and difficulties facing exporters to Australia. The EU and the Philippines now have formal dispute complaints on this.

Pest- or disease-free zones: The Committee agreed to begin considering the issue of recognition of pest- or disease-free zones, as a growing number of countries have identified difficulties in having their zones recognized.

Funded participation

At least two capital-based experts from each of the 32 Caribbean and Latin American countries participated in the SPS meetings, thanks to funding provided by the US and Canada through the Inter-American Institute for Agricultural Cooperation. This funding should permit participation of IICA member countries for at least one more meeting of the SPS Committee.

Convention on Biodiversity

Although the committee was unable to grant observer status to the Convention on Biological Diversity, it did agree to invite the CBD secretariat to provide an informal briefing session on the Cartagena Protocol in the margins of the next SPS Committee meeting.

New chairperson

Paul Martin (Canada) was confirmed as the next chairperson, taking over from Mrs Maria Fe Alberto-Chai Huu (Philippines) at the next meeting.

Next meeting

24-25 June 2003. Before these regular sessions, there will be informal meetings on equivalence, special and differential treatment, transparency, and on adaptation to regional conditions.

> SPS on the WTO website

Full list of specific trade concerns raised
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New issues

  • Cuba’s restriction on imports of pears and apples because of ceratitis capitata (raised by Argentina).
  • Australian import requirements for Netherlands truss tomatoes (raised by the EU).
  • Mexican restrictions on imports of dry beans (raised by the US)
  • Japan’s fumigation standards (raised by the US)
  • Chinese Decree No. 31 on inspection and quarantine administrative measures for entry and exit of aquatic products (raised by EU)
  • Mexican restrictions on Austrian products (raised by the EU).
  • EU Directive 2001/661/EC regarding foot and mouth disease (document G/SPS/GEN/373) (raised by South Africa)
  • Indonesia’s foot and mouth disease-related restrictions on imports of corned beef (raised by Argentina)
  • EU proposal regarding animal by-products (raised by the US)

Issues previously raised

Document G/SPS/GEN/204/Rev.3 contains a summary of all specific trade concerns raised in the SPS Committee since 1995. The references to page numbers correspond to the English language version of the document.

> Download G/SPS/GEN/204/Rev.3 (Word format, 140 pages, 1583 KB)
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> Go to Documents Online to search for other documents mentioned here
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  • Australia’s restriction on durian imports (raised by Thailand)(p.15).
  • EU: the expansion and improvement of a laboratory to control aflatoxin levels in Brazil nuts for export to EU markets (proposal presented by Bolivia) (p.48).
  • Venezuela’s restrictions on imports of potatoes, garlic and onions (raised by Argentina) (p.118).
  • Japan’s official control restrictions (raised by New Zealand) (p.79).
  • Australia’s restrictions on prawn imports (raised by Thailand) (p.11).
  • Australia’s restrictions on infectious bursal disease in chicken products (raised by Thailand) (p.12).
  • Honduras’ restrictions on chicken meat imports (raised by Costa Rica) (p.66; and G/SPS/N/HND/3; G/SPS/GEN/347/Rev.1 and Add.1).
  • Trinidad and Tobago’s restriction on imports of pork sausages and other pork products, fresh, cured or salted (raised by Argentina) (p.105).
  • Australian import restrictions on pigmeat from Denmark (raised by the EU) (p.10).
  • The Philippines’ requirement for third party certification for HACCP plants (raised by Canada) (G/SPS/N/PHL/44, p.94).
  • Indonesia’s restrictions on imports of dairy products because of foot and mouth disease (raised by Argentina) (p.73).
  • Colombia’s restrictions on imports of bovine meat because of foot and mouth disease (raised by Argentina) (p.32).
  • India’s import requirements for bovine semen (raised by Canada) (p.70).
  • Argentina’s BSE-related measures (raised by Canada) (p.1; and G/SPS/N/ARG/65).
  • Uruguay’s BSE-related measures (raised by Canada) (G/SPS/N/URY/5/Rev.1; p.116).
  • China’s ban on products of Dutch origin (raised by the EU) (p.29).
  • EU biotechnology policies (raised by the US) (p.63).


Questions on specific notifications received

  • EU notifications on labelling and traceability of GMOs (raised by Argentina) (p.41; and G/SPS/N/EEC/149 and 150; G/SPS/GEN/337, 338 and 354).
  • Brazil’s BSE-related measures (raised by Canada) (G/SPS/N/BRA/74 and 75).
  • EU notification on plant and plant products (raised by Israel) (p.60; and G/SPS/N/EEC/131;).
  • EU notification on transitional BSE measures (raised by the US) (G/SPS/N/EEC/192).