WTO members meeting as the committee dealing with food safety and animal and plant health agreed on 18–19 October 2012 to accelerate work on how to defuse disputes with the help of its chairperson.

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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

They aim to try to complete this when they meet next in March 2013.

Meanwhile, the specific trade issues attracting the most comment in this Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures Committee meeting included new queries about new-member Russia’s import ban on live animals and its listing of enterprises approved for exporting to Russia, and on-going concerns about the EU’s regulations on novel foods and proposed limits on cadmium in cocoa and chocolate.

One concern was reported as resolved: specific trade concern no. 334 on Chinese Taipei’s maximum residue levels for ochratoxin A, a toxin produced by mould. The concern was first raised by India, Colombia and the EU in the previous meeting (July 2012) after the new regulation was circulated in April. Chinese Taipei has revised the rule, notified in document G/SPS/N/TPKM/255/Add.1 circulated in September. The EU said this settled the issue.

“I would like to hear more of these reports,” said chairperson Maria Albarece.

The US, supported by Canada, Chile and Paraguay urged countries to apply internationally-recognized standards more, including new standards, because they are based on science. Morocco and Burkina Faso agreed but added that the standards-setting bodies should do more on issues of interest to developing countries.

In informal consultations, members also continued to work on private sector standards. Part of the discussion was on defining what they are, chairperson Maria Albarece reported to formal committee. Several developing countries urged members to reach consensus on actions the committee might take, many of which have not been agreed. Belize said an analysis showed that every product exported by its private sector faces private standards, the chairperson reported.

The committee also streamlined the way it invites international organizations to be “ad hoc” observers, by extending the invitation for a year unless any member objects, instead of meeting by meeting.

At the end of the meeting delegates and Secretariat staff paid an emotional tribute to Irma Bracco, who is retiring after having served as administrative assistant on SPS since the committee’s birth in 1995.


Some details

The SPS Committee’s main task is to monitor how countries are implementing food safety and animal and plant health measures under the WTO Agreement, and to discuss issues arising from that, including the work of recognized international standards-setting bodies. Its deliberations range from comments on specific measures to broader principles.


Ad hoc mediation

Earlier in the week, delegations agreed in informal consultations to accelerate deliberations that would make it easier for countries to use the chairperson’s services to mediate on problems members have about each other’s measures and to avoid bringing legal disputes against each other.

The formal meeting confirmed that members will use electronic communications between now and the next meeting in March to try to settle five key issues, the discussions led by “stewards” from among the membership:

  • whether the procedure would be compulsory or voluntary — Switzerland as the “steward”
  • transparency and confidentiality — Brazil
  • the role of the mediator or “facilitator” — the US
  • timetables for the stages of the procedure — Argentina
  • the relationship between this SPS procedure and other proposals in the Doha Round talks, particularly on non-tariff barriers in the negotiations on non-agricultural market access (NAMA) — Pakistan

New Zealand, Canada and South Africa will be “co-stewards”. With more informal consultations in Geneva in March, chairperson Maria Albarece said she hopes members “would then be in a position to finalize the procedure based on the compromises crafted by the stewards”.

The possibility of ad hoc mediation by the chairperson or anyone else accepted by the countries concerned is included in Art.12.2 of the SPS Agreement.


Specific trade concerns
(Full list in “PS“ below)

Eight new specific concerns including two Russian measures and 11 that had been raised before, including two EU measures, were discussed. The other new issues were: Argentina, about Canada’s delays in completing inspections on bovine and poultry meat; Senegal on US restrictions on tomatoes; Australia on Turkey’s sheep-meat import requirements; India about Japan’s restrictions on shrimp due to anti-oxidant residues; the US on Indonesia not notifying new regulations on fruit and vegetable; and Ecuador on Brazil’s measures on shrimps.

Other concerns raised again included Indonesia’s port closure and the EU’s repeated concern about measures taken because of mad cow disease (BSE).


Russia: live animals and listed establishments

The EU expressed concern about Russian restrictions on live animals, which it said was not supported by scientific evidence or risk analysis. It said some of the evidence cited was the result of misuse of information published by the EU for transparency. Russia said the measures are justified by ample evidence and comply with the SPS Agreement’s provisions to prevent the spread of disease.

The EU said that approving enterprises that can export to Russia has become more difficult and since Russia joined the WTO, adding new establishments to the lists has become impossible, while some have been removed on grounds, which the EU said are unjustified. Norway, the US and Morocco had similar concerns. Russia said it was complying with the provisions of its WTO membership agreement. Approval follows a procedure that is transparent and predictable, Russia said.

In raising these issues the EU also welcomed Russia as a new WTO member. The ability to work together within the WTO’s framework means the extensive trade relationship can be on a firmer, securer and more predictable footing, the EU said.


The EU: cadmium in cocoa and novel foods

Once again, a number of countries complained that the EU’s recent decision to amend its regulation on maximum levels of cadmium allowed in chocolate, milk chocolate and cocoa powder threatens their exports and the livelihoods of smallholder cocoa farmers. They also complained that the proposed rules would be stricter on cocoa and chocolate than on other products such as vegetables and cereals.

Expressing concern this time were: Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Nicaragua, Dominican Rep, Cuba, Peru, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Ghana.

The EU repeated that it is still preparing the new rules at a technical level with no actual maximum residue levels proposed. It is looking at data supplied by producing countries and others and is confident that a balanced proposal with minimum impact on trade will be possible, the EU said.

This proposed rules on cadmium was first raised in October 2011.

A number of Latin American countries also repeated their concerns about the EU’s “novel foods” regulations — the treatment of their indigenous and traditional products which are related to biodiversity and are treated as “new” in the EU market because they have no significant history of consumption in that market. Expressing concern in this meeting were Peru, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba and Brazil.

The EU said it is preparing new proposed legislation, expected to be adopted in 2013, which will make approval for these products quicker and easier.


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


  • week of 18 March
  • week of 24 June
  • week of 7 October


These are some of the trade issues or concerns discussed or information supplied by members.


Information from members

  • Australia — update on reform of Australia’s biosecurity system including release of draft biosecurity legislation for comments
  • Japan — response to the nuclear plant accident
  • European Union — Bulgaria’s FMD-free status
  • Mexico — information on various matters


Specific trade concerns
(Document (G/SPS/GEN/204/Rev.12)

New issues

  • Canada’s delays in finalizing inspection procedures on bovine and poultry meat — concerns of Argentina
  • Russia’s import ban on live animals — concerns of the European Union
  • US restrictions on tomatoes (G/SPS/N/USA/2019) — concerns of Senegal
  • Turkey’s requirements for importation of sheep-meat — concerns of Australia
  • Russia’s barriers related to the listing of EU establishments — concerns of the European Union
  • Japan’s restrictions on shrimp due to anti-oxidant residues — concerns of India
  • Indonesia’s import licensing requirements — concerns of the US (last-minute addition under “other business”)
  • Brazil’s measures on shrimps — concerns of Ecuador (last-minute addition under “other business”)

Issues previously raised
(Numbers are “specific trade concerns” numbers in the database http://spsims.wto.org)

  • Application and modification of the EU regulation on novel foods — concerns of Peru (no. 238)
  • US measures on catfish (G/SPS/N/USA/2171) — concerns of China (no. 289)
  • EU maximum residue levels of pesticides — concerns of India (no. 306)
  • Viet Nam’s ban on offals — concerns of the European Union and the United States (no. 314)
  • EU regulations on cadmium in cocoa — concerns of Ecuador and Colombia (no. 325)
  • China’s quarantine and testing procedures for salmon — concerns of Norway (no. 319)
  • Thailand’s restrictions on table grapes, apples and pears — concerns of South Africa (no.326)
  • Indonesia’s port closure (G/SPS/N/IDN/53, (G/SPS/N/IDN/54 and CORR.1)— concerns of china and the European Union (no. 330)
  • Import restrictions due to BSE — concerns of the European Union (no. 193)
  • US risk analysis for the import of queen bees — concerns of Argentina no. 301)
  • Malaysia’s import restrictions on pork and pork products — concerns of the European Union (no.323)


Consideration of specific notifications received

  • (none)


Information on resolution of issues

  • Chinese Taipei’s MRLs for roasted and powdered coffee — concerns of the European Union (no.334)

This meeting’s magic number


… the number of resolved issues reported in this meeting. “I would like to hear more of these reports,” said chairperson Maria Albarece


 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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