THIS NEWS STORY is designed to help the public understand developments in the WTO. While every effort has been made to ensure the contents are accurate, it does not prejudice member governments’ positions.

The official record is in the meeting’s minutes.

> sanitary and phytosanitary measures
> SPS news



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

WTO members meeting as the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures Committee, which deals with food safety and animal and plant health, discussed some of the latest of these notifications and other specific trade concerns. This was part of the committee’s routine task of following how well member governments’ actions meet the requirements of the SPS Agreement.

Among the concerns discussed were actual or proposed measures on honey containing pollen from genetically modified plants, cadmium residues in cocoa and chocolate, avian influenza, mad cow disease, ractopamine (a feed additive to produce lean meat) and “novel” foods.

Members praised China for the efforts it has made to live up to its SPS obligations, but expressed concerns that some information is still not available, some measures do not follow international standards or are not supported by science and that some procedures are taking too long. They were speaking in the final assessment of how China has performed since it joined the WTO in 2001, part of the “Transitional Review Mechanism” covering a range of subjects, set out in China’s membership agreement — reviews that have taken place annually in the first eight years, and once again after 10 years.

They also continued their consultations on enhancing procedures for the chairperson to help broker solutions to problems they have with each other’s measures, following up on further work agreed in the third review of the agreement’s implementation, and on private and commercial standards.

And they discussed the selection and role of observer organizations as the number asking to become observers rises.


Some details


Many but not all of the specific concerns raised in the meeting were in response to information that member governments have notified each other through the WTO on their SPS measures.

By the end of September this year, 10,366 regular and emergency measures had been notified since 1 January 1995 when the WTO was set up, with another 2,980 additions, alterations or corrections to existing notifications, the committee learnt.

Members also submit information on translations of notified measures available in other WTO languages, and more recently when they have recognized others’ SPS measures as being equivalent to their own.

Overall, the volume is rising. The latest update of the WTO Secretariat report on notifications (G/SPS/GEN/804/Rev.4) says 2010 saw the largest number of notifications in a single year so far, at 1,436.

SPS notifications per year

emergency notifications
additions, alterations and corrections (“addenda” and “corrigenda”)
regular notifications

The US submitted over a quarter of the total of regular notifications since 1995 (2,192), followed by Brazil (775), China (592) and Canada (567). Top notifiers of emergency measures were Albania (125), the Philippines (114), New Zealand (102) and the US (84).

Developing countries (including least-developed countries) now submit more notifications than developed countries — they broke through the 50% share in 2008 and now contribute about two thirds of notifications each year.

Developing and least developed countries’ share of SPS notifications

The WTO Secretariat has introduced a system for countries to submit the information online, which should increase the quantity, quality and speed of notification.


Some of the specific trade concerns

(See also “PS” below)

GM pollen in honey. The European Court of justice recently ruled that pollen found in honey should be considered an “ingredient” rather than a natural constituent. This means that pollen from genetically modified (GM) plants would have to be approved as ingredients for honey sold in the EU.

Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, Paraguay and the US objected to this because it has created uncertainty and caused EU imports to fall. They observed that the Codex Alimentarius’s international standard does not treat pollen as an ingredient and they urged the EU to act to remove the trade obstacle. The US added that the pollen in the court case was from a genetically modified variety (MON810) that is approved in the EU.

The EU said it is striving to cause the least disruption to trade. The ruling applies to EU honey as well as imports, it said. It expects an opinion by the end of October on the safety of MON810 pollen (which is not approved yet), and is considering the best approach more generally, including through consultations. But it added that if honey contains GM pollen approved elsewhere but not approved in the EU, then the honey cannot be imported into the EU.

Cadmium in cocoa. Ecuador said a proposed EU regulation on cadmium residues in cocoa could set maximum residue levels that are too low to achieve, particularly in countries with volcanic soils. Support came from Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela. The EU said it is still considering a revised limit for chocolate as well as cocoa, has not decided on a residue limit yet, and is working with the cocoa and chocolate producers to ensure the limit will be “as lows as reasonably achievable” (ALARA). It said it was pleased to hear Ecuador is taking steps to minimize the residues in cocoa beans.


Some issues raised in previous meetings

Ractopamine. The US, Canada, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru continue to object to Chinese Taipei’s ban on meat from animals fed with ractopamine, a beta-agonist drug mixed with feed that boosts growth and promotes leanness in pigs and cattle. Chinese Taipei said it had already explained its position in the last meeting.

India’s measures against bird flu (avian influenza). The US and EU continued call for India to scrap the import restrictions — which have been in place for several years — on the grounds that the risk assessment that India gave to them is scientifically inadequate, a view they said the World Animal Health Organization (OIE) shares.

This issue has been discussed since 2004 but more regularly since 2007. The US and EU say neither science nor international standards justify such measures as banning pork imports since pigs do not transmit the virus. India says the paper it gave to the two was a draft describing a risk assessment that has not yet been completed. It has argued that some scientific research shows the virus can be carried by pigs, and that it needs a strong defence for its poor farmers.

US Food Safety Modernization Act. China, India Turkey and Costa Rica continued to express concerns about the new act, India arguing that it does not meet certain principles of the SPS Agreement (“equivalence” and “harmonization”). But they appreciated the US’s efforts to explain the act and to provide technical assistance, some calling for more, particularly through regional sessions. The US said it is happy to discuss providing more assistance or information and to discuss some aspects of how the law is to be implemented.

EU Regulation on Novel Foods. Peru, Colombia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Brazil, Chile and Mexico continued to be concerned about the treatment of their indigenous and traditional products which are treated as “new” in the EU because they have no significant history of consumption in that market. The EU said common ground on a new regulation has not been found and it is now considering how to achieve this so that novel foods can have quicker access to its market.


China’s final review

This last review of how China has implemented the SPS Agreement since it joined the WTO heard comments and questions from the EU (document G/SPS/W/262), US, Mexico and Japan. It was part of the “Transitional Review Mechanism” covering a range of WTO subjects, set out in China’s 2001 membership agreement, requiring annual reviews for the first eight years and one more after 10 years.

Speakers observed the large increase in China’s agricultural trade since it joined and praised China for its efforts to comply with the SPS Agreement. But they also pointed to some problems they face in particular areas such as food additives, and measures to deal with mad cow disease (BSE) and avian influenza.

More broadly, they said some of the laws and rules are untransparent because translations into WTO languages are unavailable, some are not based on international standards or science, some measures restricting trade take too long to remove, and some measures apply to imports but not domestic products. (Similar comments are heard frequently in the regular exchanges between members discussing specific trade concerns.)

China said it is a developing country and has had to overcome considerable obstacles in order to meet its obligations. It is ready and willing to continue to discuss members’ concerns in the SPS Committee’s regular work and bilaterally, it said.

China is the third largest notifier of SPS measures among WTO members, with 619 regular and emergency measures notified since it joined in 2001 (see Secretariat report G/SPS/GEN/804/Rev.4). (see earlier news stories and official documents).



A large number of African members called for the African Union to be accepted as an observer in the committee, not least because it is already an observer in the “three sisters” — Codex Alimentarius, World Animal Health Organization (OIE), International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) — whose international standards are recognized by the SPS Agreement.

The call also follows recent agreement to accept three African regional organizations as observers in the SPS Committee.

The US, EU, Canada and New Zealand said this should wait until members have had an opportunity to consider guidelines on the role of observer organizations and on accepting new observers. This was partly a response to requests from 11 organizations to be added to the present list of 10 permanent observer organizations and 11 invited meeting by meeting (see Secretariat note G/SPS/GEN/1112, details of applicants to be observers).

It also followed a discussion on whether an observer organization can express an opinion on whether an individual WTO member is meeting the organization’s standards, rather than advising the committee more generally about the standards.

Meanwhile, the IPPC, which deals with plant health, reported that its financial future is slightly more stable since it has received some funding. But some members urged other members and the FAO, which hosts the IPPC, to provide more funds for the IPPC’s work, which they described as vital for trade.


Next meetings

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


  • 28–29 March 2012
  • 11–12 July 2012
  • 17–18 October 2012



These are some of the trade issues or concerns discussed in the meeting or information supplied to the meeting, as in the draft agenda (some other items were added in the meeting). A database of trade concerns raised is in the WTO’s SPS Information Management System, http://spsims.wto.org.


Information from …

Members (general)

  • European Union — shiga toxin-producing escherichia coli (STEC) in the European Union
  • Japan — information regarding nuclear plant accident
  • Madagascar — EU measures affecting certain products from Madagascar (G/SPS/Gen/1113)
  • Canada — aquatic animal health regulations
  • Mexico — use of electronic SPS certificates in international trade
  • Rep. Korea — avian influenza
  • Argentina — Cairns Group statement (WT/L/821)

Members (pest or disease status)

  • European Union — foot and mouth disease in Bulgaria
  • South Africa — foot and mouth disease status
  • South Africa — avian influenza status
  • Jamaica — citrus greening disease G/SPS/GEN/1118)
  • Mexico — Venezuelan equine encephalitis (G/SPS/GEN/1124)

Observer organizations

  • OIE
  • IPPC
  • Codex
  • SADC
  • Others


Specific trade concerns (G/SPS/GEN/204/Rev.11)

New issues

  • Malaysia’s import restrictions on pork and pork products — concerns of the European Union
  • China’s requirement for registration and supervision of foreign enterprises — concerns of India
  • EU regulations on cadmium in cocoa beans — concerns of Ecuador
  • Thailand’s restrictions on table grapes, apples and pears — concerns of South Africa
  • EU Court of Justice ruling regarding pollen derived from GMOs — concerns of Argentina
  • US default MRLs, limits of determination or limits of quantification on basmati rice — concerns of India

Issues previously raised

(the numbers after each topic can be used to search for the cases in http://spsims.wto.org/)

  • EU regulation on polyamide and melamine plastic kitchenware — concerns of China (No. 322)
  • US Food Safety Modernization Act — concerns of China and India (No. 299)
  • Japan’s MRLs applied to cacao — concerns of Ecuador (No. 283)
  • Viet Nam’s ban on offals — concerns of the European Union and United States (No. 314)
  • Japan’s prohibition of certain food additives — concerns of India (No. 307)
  • Chinese Taipei’s prohibition on ractopamine in beef and pork — concerns of the United States (No. 275)
  • EU maximum residue levels of pesticides — concerns of India (No. 306)
  • Turkey’s restrictions on products derived from biotechnology — concerns of the United States (No. 302)
  • application and modification of the EU Regulation on Novel Foods — concerns of Peru (No. 238)
  • Philippine restrictions on imported fresh meat — concerns of the United States (No. 320)
  • US import restrictions on plants and plant products — concerns of the European Union (No. 102)
  • Indonesia’s restrictions on poultry meat — concerns of Brazil (No. 286)
  • India’s restrictions due to avian influenza — concerns of the European Union and United States (No. 185)
  • South Africa’s import restrictions on fresh pork meat — concerns of Brazil (No. 287)
  • US failure to recognize South Patagonia as a disease-free region and the reopening of the market for fresh beef from the rest of the country — concerns of Argentina (No. 318)
  • Indonesia’s import restrictions on meat products and recognition of principle of regionalization — concerns of Brazil (No. 305)
  • import restrictions due to BSE — concerns of the European Union (No. 193)

Consideration of specific notifications received

  • (none)


Information on resolution of issues

  • (none)

This meeting’s magic number


… total SPS measures that members have notified to the WTO since it was set up in 1995 to 30 September 2011, excluding additions, alterations and corrections. From document G/SPS/GEN/804/Rev.4


Jargon buster 

Place the cursor over a term to see its definition:

• equivalence

• notification

• regionalization

• sanitary and phytosanitary measures

• S&D, STD, special and differential treatment

> More jargon: glossary

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