9–10 March 2005

Regionalization, BSE and foot-and-mouth still top issues list

WTO members meeting on 9–10 March 2005 failed to agree on a work programme on implementing “regionalization”, the requirement that governments recognize regions within or straddling other countries as being safe sources for imports of food and animal and plant products, instead of basing their measures entirely on national boundaries.

Also discussed in the committee were the latest review of the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) Agreement, which deals with food safety and animal and plant health, and special treatment for developing countries. The committee aims to complete reports on these at its next meeting in June.

And mad cow disease (BSE or bovine spongiform encephalopathy) and foot and mouth disease repeatedly emerged as concerns, both underlying the broader issues and in the more specific trade concerns raised.

With the latest Secretariat round-up of specific concerns highlighting the domination of the two animal diseases, the US brought in its ambassador specially to stress how seriously it is concerned about a continuing Japanese ban on its beef.

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(‘Adaptation to regional conditions, including pest- or disease-free areas and areas of low pest or disease prevalence’)

Article 6 of the SPS Agreement requires governments to recognize regions within other countries as being safe sources for imports of food and animal and plant products, instead of basing their measures entirely on national boundaries. The regions concerned can extend beyond a single country’s borders as well as be contained within a country.

Following consultations earlier in the week, a draft decision on regionalization was circulated, drawing on members’ ideas, the latest in papers from Chile (G/SPS/W/171) and Australia (G/SPS/W/172). It would set out a work programme for enhancing the implementation of Article 6 of the SPS Agreement. This would include: making this issue a standing item on the committee’s agenda, with a number of specific questions that might lead to guidelines for implementing regionalization; information-gathering on members’ opinions about implementing the article; and co-ordination and information sharing with two key international bodies with their own approaches to regionalization. The two are the World Animal Health Organization (OIE) and the FAO’s Secretariat of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC).

Both within this debate and under other agenda items various members complained about measures that other governments have taken against products from anywhere in their territories even though problems are localized. Related to this is some countries’ concern that unreasonably long and difficult procedures are required before some importing countries will recognize the disease- or pest-free status of a supplier, especially after a limited outbreak of a disease.

Canada said all its chicken products had been banned in some countries even though avian flu had broken out in a small part of British Columbia. The EU said some countries banned products from all its member countries on the grounds of foot and mouth disease, even though some areas such as Austria had not seen the disease for 25 years. And Argentina repeated its call for other countries to recognize that part of its territory is free of foot-and-mouth disease.

The issue will be considered again at the next meeting in June. The draft decision that was not accepted.

The Committee’s failure to agree on the work programme arose because of differences of opinion among members on whether it would be useful for the committee to develop guidelines. Latin American countries broadly favour guidelines. Some others such as the US would prefer to leave the task to the OIE and IPPC, with their technical and scientific expertise. The EU supports the development of guidelines, but is concerned that work on drafting guidelines might encourage countries to delay implementing regionalized measures until the guidelines are agreed — Article 6 already makes regionalization an obligation, the EU says.


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Special and differential treatment

(For a summary of proposals and the discussion so far, see Secretariat document G/SPS/GEN/543)

This is part of the Doha agenda, and under the 1 August 2004 General Council decision (sometimes called the “July 2004 package”), the SPS Committee has to report back to the General Council by July 2005.

The chairperson reported that informal discussions on 8 March had been “very positive and pragmatic … with broad-based and constructive participation”. These focused five proposals referred to the SPS Committee by the General Council (see SPS work programme G/SPS/W/135). But he also highlighted “an apparent expectations gap” between countries that had submitted or supported specific proposals (see paper cited above), and others.

The “positive and pragmatic” approach in the informal meeting was reflected for example in the fact that countries that had advocated amending the SPS Agreement were willing to focus on the issues and the underlying problems because many countries want to avoid altering the agreement. Furthermore, countries making the proposals clarified that these should be considered as input for further discussions, not “take-it-or-leave-it” proposals. Speakers also recognized that there had been various developments in recent years which partly addressed some of the concerns underlying the five proposals.

During the discussion in the formal meeting, part of the “expectations gap” was exposed when Canada argued that some proposals would conflict with members’ assertions that they do not want to obstruct governments’ rights to introduce SPS measures.

For example the African Group has proposed (TN/CTD/W/3/Rev.2) that if a country introduces a measure, it has to provide technical assistance for others to adapt to the measure or else withdraw the measure immediately and unconditionally. Canada said that according to this proposal even a developing country introducing a measure would have to provide technical assistance or withdraw the measure. But more importantly, the proposal has lost sight of the fact that SPS measures are necessary health and safety measures, for example to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease, Canada said.


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Review of the SPS Agreement

(For a summary of issues, see Secretariat document G/SPS/GEN/510/Rev.1)

This is the second review, now required every four years under a decision of the 2001 Ministerial Conference in Doha, Qatar. (The first review was in 1999.)

The subjects discussed in informal talks earlier this week include transparency, clarification of definitions, Article 8 and Annex C (control, inspection and approval procedures), good offices of the chair for mediating disputes, the relationship between Articles 2.1 and 5.6 (ensuring measures are no more restrictive than required to achieve the appropriate level of SPS protection), the relationship between the committee and the international standards-setting bodies, good regulatory practices and undue delays (proposed by Uruguay in document G/SPS/W/169, raising concerns about lengthy and burdensome processes for approving imports).

A draft review report, based on Secretariat document G/SPS/GEN/510/Rev.1 will be discussed at the June meeting, when the committee hopes to approve the report and a work programme for tackling the issues raised.


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Technical Assistance

During the discussion of technical assistance, a number of developing countries reported on their experiences as recipients, noting the types of assistance that have been particularly useful in improving their use of the SPS Agreement, or in opening markets for their exports.

The Secretariat, several members and various international organizations reported on their technical assistance activities that are related to SPS. Although the focus of the Secretariat’s activities are primarily on training officials on their governments’ rights and obligations under the SPS Agreement and on WTO procedures and practices, the WTO Secretariat also manages the new Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF). This fund, established jointly with the FAO, WHO, World Bank and OIE, and with funding from several donor countries, provides financing for SPS capacity-building projects.


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Specific trade concerns: the discussion

Mad cow disease (BSE). The US expressed “extraordinary … serious and urgent” concerns at Japan’s continued restrictions on US beef.

Only one cow, an eight-year-old imported from Canada, had been detected with BSE in the US, the American ambassador said. Since the detection in December 2003, the US introduced a number of measures and strengthened safeguards to prevent BSE being established and spreading, she said. It has also undertaken a comprehensive epidemiological investigation, set up an international review and evaluation panel, and tested over 260,000 animals so far — all the cattle yielding negative test results.

The US said it had agreed with Japan in October 2004 a framework for resuming trade, but he Japanese ban remains. The US therefore urged Japan to act immediately to remove the ban.

Japan said it had addressed US concerns sincerely at all levels of government. The October 2004 framework agreed with the US said trade would resume when a domestic appraisal was completed. This is now underway and Japan will report on progress, the delegation said.

Canada and the US also described in detail the actions they have taken on BSE, including the US designating Canada as a minimal risk region. The EU said it has not changed its policy on imports from Canada and the US because it accepts that the two countries’ controls are good enough to ensure products can be traded safely. The EU urged the two to recognize that the EU’s own controls are state-of-the-art, and urged the US to reciprocate by giving the EU minimal risk status.

Other issues. Among a long list of other specific concerns raised were: problems with the implementation of new international standard for wood packaging materials; draft new food and feed hygiene rules in the EU; Japan’s proposed new minimum residue levels for pesticides, veterinary drugs and food additives; Guatemala’s restrictions on chicken meat and avocado imports; Greek inspection and testing procedures for wheat; Australia’s restrictions on grapes; Thailand’s new food safety rules; and various countries situations on foot-and-mouth disease. Complaints made included measures that are allegedly too strict, not based on science or may discriminate against imports. Bilateral consultations have resolved some problems, those involved reported.


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(Document G/SPS/GEN/204/Rev.5 and Add.1–3)

Animal health, particularly mad cow (BSE) and foot and mouth diseases, have dominated 10 years of discussions in the SPS Committee, the Secretariat reports in its latest round-up of specific trade concerns. “Animal health and zoonoses” accounts for 40% of concerns raised since the committee began work in 1995, and within this group of concerns, mad cow disease (more accurately transmissible spongiform encephalopathy or TSEs) totalled 40% of concerns raised with foot and mouth disease taking up another 25%. (Figures for 2004 alone are 37% of the total for animal health and zoonoses, and 48% of this taken up by TSEs and 32% on foot and mouth disease.)

Over the decade, plant health accounted for 29% of all concerns (31% in 2004), food safety was 27% (26% in 2004), and other concerns (such as transparency) 4% (6% in 2004). Of the 204 issues raised in the first nine years, 56 were announced as resolved by the end of last year, another 15 were partly solved, and 133 had no solution reported.

The Secretariat paper reports that developing countries have been participating actively. Over the 10 years, 101 issues were raised by developing countries (sometimes by several countries) compared to 143 raised by developed countries, and two by least-developed countries.

This latest annual update is in four parts: a 19-page overview (G/SPS/GEN/204/Rev.5); issues raised for the first time in 2004 (67 pages, G/SPS/GEN/204/Rev.5/Add.1); issues raised in the first nine years with no resolution reported, but not raised again in 2004(68 pages, G/SPS/GEN/204/Rev.5/Add.2); and issues reported resolved before 2004 (28 pages, G/SPS/GEN/204/Rev.5/Add.3).


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Next meeting

29–30 June 2005, but the dates could change


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Chairperson: Mr Gregg Young, US