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

The Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) Committee also tentatively agreed on a report concluding its third review of how the SPS Agreement is working. The report, originally due out at the end of 2009, will be formally approved if no one raises further objections by 15 April. (When confirmed, this is expected to be document G/SPS/53.) The report reviews the past four years and identifies areas for the committee’s future work.

The committee continued to discuss private sector standards, with some members calling for a clearer interpretation of the relationship between these and the SPS Agreement — whose focus is on government standards.

And with specific trade concerns raised in the committee since 1995 now approaching 300, members continued to comment on each others’ measures, including regular topics such as avian influenza, mad cow disease (BSE) and the H1N1 virus.


Some detail

New observers

The new observers are the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS), Community of the Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD) and Southern African Development Community (SADC). Like some other observers in the SPS Committee, they will be “ad hoc” — invited meeting by meeting, starting in June — a solution devised because the membership is still deliberating a common approach for observers across all WTO subjects.

Regional organizations that are already observers in the SPS Committee are: Organismo Internacional de Sanidad Agropecuaria (OIRSA), which works among some Latin American countries, and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the Latin American Economic System (SELA) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

A number of African countries said they were keen for their three organizations to become observers because the three help countries improve their ability to meet international standards and therefore to export to international markets. Some delegations find it difficult to attend all meetings and therefore the regional observers will also help them keep track of work in the WTO.

And, making these organizations observers also ties in with technical assistance they receive from some developed countries on sanitary and phytosanitary issues.

Specific concerns: overall

One of the SPS Committee’s most important functions is to provide an opportunity for members to raise concerns they have about each others’ SPS measures. This is the SPS Committee’s bread-and-butter work in overseeing the agreement’s implementation.

The latest summary of specific trade concerns was presented to this meeting. It says 290 issues were raised from 1995, when the WTO was set up, until the end of last year (2009). This contrasts with 36 formal legal disputes citing the SPS Agreement out of more than 400 formal legal disputes across all subjects brought to the WTO in the same period.

Although a number of concerns raised in the SPS Committee are not potential legal disputes, the committee’s discussions are partly seen as a way of avoiding litigation.

Number of new issues raised per year

The peak year for new cases was 2002, when 42 were first raised in the committee, but the number has stayed below 20 since 2006, with 13 new issues in 2009.

The largest number of cases (40%) are about animal health and among these mad cow disease (BSE), foot and mouth disease, and avian influenza account for over two thirds of issues.

Altogether, 79 cases have solutions reported, 18 have partial solutions reported, and 193 are on-going (or are resolved without being reported to the WTO).

The report shows that developing countries have been active in raising concerns, asking or joining others in asking around half of the issues raised (146.)

The document is in four parts: G/SPS/GEN/204/Rev.10 (23 pages in English) is a statistical summary and list of issues. G/SPS/GEN/204/Rev.10/Add.1 (51 pages in English) gives details of the 29 concerns raised in 2009, 13 of them new. G/SPS/GEN/204/Rev.10/Add.2 (182 pages in English) summarizes the cases not raised in 2009 but not reported resolved. G/SPS/GEN/204/Rev.10/Add.3 (74 pages in English) summarizes the cases reported as resolved. They are available in WTO Documents Online. The data are also available in the WTO’s SPS Information Management System.


Specific concerns: discussed this time

Code numbers, eg, “no. 278”, identify particular issues and can be used to search the WTO’s SPS Information Management System.

Several issues raised were old ones, raised in previous meetings. Those summarized here tend to be issues that have generated concerns among a number of members. The full list of issues on the agenda is under “P.S.” below

Australia’s new import requirements for beef. Australia described the steps it is taking to revise the requirements and said an import risk analysis will be needed, which will take up to two years. Canada, the EU and the US were disappointed with the 9 March announcement that two years will be needed for fresh beef. They said they had previously understood that this lengthy process would no longer be needed. Australia said the concerns would be taken into account and that it would use scientific methods and those of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), one of the standards-setting bodies recognized by the SPS Agreement.

The EU and Switzerland repeated their more general concern about countries’ import restrictions because of BSE, even on products that the OIE considers to be safe.

EU’s warning label requirements for artificial colouring: These colourings are used in drinks and confectionary, including those consumed by children. The US, New Zealand and Mexico said the labelling would create alarm when scientific research (including an often-cited study by Southampton University), showed the colouring has no risks. The EU said the Southampton study had aroused public interest leading to the requirement to use warning labels, which are designed to offer consumers choices. Companies have time to adjust because of the 18-month transition period, and European producers would also have to adapt, it said.

Colombia’s complaint against Venezuela (no. 290): Colombia repeated its complaint that Venezuela had stopped issuing import certificates, which Colombia said affected virtually all its agricultural exports to Venezuela. Venezuela denied that trade had been disrupted and asked Colombia for copies of the evidence it cited. Ecuador, Bolivia and Cuba supported Venezuela and urged the two sides to settle the issue amicably.

India’s measures on bird flu (no. 185): The EU and US continued to complain about India’s import restrictions for example on pigs and poultry products, which they said were not justified, and do not comply with the standards of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). India repeated that the measures are necessary to protect health.

Other specific trade concerns: Also discussed were: Costa Rica complaining about US restrictions on ornamental plants larger than 18 inches (the US said it is working with Costa Rica to find a science-based solution and is waiting for information from Costa Rica); a complaint from Brazil about Malaysia’s import restrictions on plant and plant products, China’s concerns about continuing US restrictions on cooked poultry products (no. 256, raised several times).


Private sector standards

Consultations among about 30 members in an ad hoc working group continued earlier in the week. In the committee, Kenya said the provision in the SPS Agreement dealing with this should be clarified.

Since the agreement mainly deals with government measures, some members doubt whether the committee can act on private sector standards. The agreement’s Art.13 includes this sentence: “Members shall take such reasonable measures as may be available to them to ensure that non-governmental entities within their territories, as well as regional bodies in which relevant entities within their territories are members, comply with the relevant provisions of this Agreement.” But there is no indication of how this should be done.

When first raised in 2005, this issue took the SPS Committee into comparatively new territory — the committee generally deals with standards set by international standards-setting bodies and those imposed by governments. A number of developing countries in particular are concerned that private standards could undermine the disciplines negotiated in the SPS Agreement (see also SPS news archives)


Mediation by the chairperson

Members continued to debate whether to aim for specific rules in SPS until similar guidelines across all issues are agreed under the Doha Round negotiations on non-agricultural market access (NAMA).

The discussion arises because Argentina and the US have proposed guidelines for applying Art.12.2 of the SPS Agreement, which deals with members’ consultations to resolve issues. In particular they envisage members using the “good offices” of the chairperson to settle specific trade concerns. India and a number of other developing countries would prefer to wait for the outcome of the NAMA negotiations.

Chairperson: Ms Miriam Chaves of Argentina


Next meetings

These dates (with informal meetings on other days in the week) could still be changed:

  • 29-30 June

  • 20—21 October 2010



These are some of the trade issues or concerns discussed in the meeting or information supplied to the meeting.

Activities of members

  • Argentina — control of fruit fly (G/SPS/GEN/994)

  • Indonesia — implementation of ISPM-15

  • Zambia — activities of plant quarantine and phytosanitary services (G/SPS/GEN/996)

  • Australia — measures related to BSE and imported food policy

  • Madagascar — information on its national SPS committee and other arrangements

  • Malawi — update on recent SPS activities

Specific trade concerns

  • Chinese Taipei’s BSE measures — concerns of Canada

  • US prohibition of ornamental plants larger than 18 inches — concerns of Costa Rica

  • France’s exports of carambola from French Guyana and fruit fly risks — concerns of Brazil

  • Malaysian import restriction on plant and plant products — concerns of Brazil

  • EU artificial colour warning labels — concerns of the United States

Previously raised

Code numbers, eg, “no. 267”, identify particular issues and can be used to search the WTO’s SPS Information Management System

  • Japan’s pesticide maximum residue level (MRL) enforcement system — concerns of China (no. 267)

  • US import restrictions on cooked poultry products from China — concerns of China (no. 256)

  • Import restrictions due to BSE — concerns of the European Union (no. 193)

  • India’s restrictions due to avian influenza — concerns of the United States (no. 185)

  • Venezuelan suspension of inspection and of emission of phyto- and zoo-sanitary certificates (G/SPS/GEN/983) — concerns of Colombia (no. 290)

  • US rule on importation of wooden handicrafts (G/SPS/N/USA/1921) — concerns of China (no. 284)

Consideration of specific notifications received

  • Ukraine import measures on animals and animal products (G/SPS/N/UKR/3/REV.2 and ADD.1) —concerns of the European Union

  • Canada’s proposed MRL for 1-methylcyclopropene in bananas (G/SPS/N/CAN/413 and CORR.1) —concerns of Ecuador

Information on resolution of issues

  • EU measures related to wood packing material (no. 81) — information from Canada

  • Mexico’s restrictions on importation of rice (no. 270) — information from Mexico

This meeting’s magic number


“specific trade concerns” discussed in the SPS Committee in the WTO’s first 15 years 1995—2009. In comparison, around 40 legal complaints citing the SPS Agreement were brought to the WTO.


 Jargon buster 

• notification: a transparency obligation requiring member governments to report proposed measures to the relevant WTO body if the measures might have an effect on other members' trade.

• regionalization: recognition that an exporting region (part of a country or a border-straddling zone) is disease-free or pest-free (or has a lower incidence).

• sanitary and phytosanitary measures: measures dealing with food safety and animal and plant health. Sanitary: for human and animal health. Phytosanitary: for plants and plant products.

• S&D, STD, special and differential treatment: special treatment given to developing countries in WTO agreements. Can include longer periods to phase in obligations, more lenient obligations, etc.

> More jargon: glossary

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