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.

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

A group of about 12 countries also complained in the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures Committee about an increase in the number of food safety and animal and plant health measures obstructing trade illegitimately because they are not based on international standards or science.

Concern about Indonesia’s port closure was among the three new and 12 old concerns raised in the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures Committee.

Members also heard on-going questions and comments, for example about measures taken against mad cow disease, Chinese Taipei’s ban on meat from animals fed with the lean-enhancing additive ractopamine, China’s methanol content requirement for some alcoholic drinks, and EU regulations for “novel foods” — including products considered traditional particularly in Latin America. The EU reported on the newly-discovered Schmallenberg virus, which has triggered a number of trade restrictions.

The committee learnt that 328 trade concerns have been raised since the SPS Agreement took effect 17 years ago. It heard a report on the latest consultations on how to deal with private sector standards, using the services of the chair to mediate in disputes between members in order to avoid litigation, and issues arising from the third review of how well the SPS Agreement is being implemented (in which there were no new proposals).

The Secretariat reported that 242 WTO technical assistance and training activities in SPS had been organized in Geneva and around the world since 1994, 21 of them in 2011 (document G/SPS/GEN/521/Rev.7). Observer organizations and individual countries also provide technical assistance. This is a key service to help developing countries implement SPS measures and meet standards required in their export markets.

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.

International standards

The complaint about measures that are unscientific or not based on international standards came from Argentina, Australia, Brazil (which presented the argument), Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Paraguay, Philippines and the US (document G/SPS/GEN/1143/Rev.1), supported by Mexico, South Africa and the EU. India reminded members of provisions on monitoring the use of international standards in the SPS Agreement.

“The increase in the number of SPS measures that are not based on international standards, guidelines and recommendations or that have inadequate scientific justification is a point of concern readily raised by many members in the SPS Committee and other contexts. These measures often unduly restrict trade and appear to be associated with objectives that are not deemed as legitimate under international trade rules,” the paper says.

It calls for members to confirm:

  • the need for science-based international guidelines, standards and recommendations
  • the need to support and strengthen confidence in SPS international standard-setting bodies (Codex Alimentarius, World Organization for Animal Health, International Plant Protection Convention)
  • the need for a scientific justification for any sanitary and phytosanitary measures which is not based on the relevant international standards, guidelines and recommendations

Reports from members

Schmallenberg virus. The committee heard a report from the EU on the situation with a newly discovered virus affecting cattle, sheep and goats, known as the Schmallenberg virus. Since November 2011, the disease, which is transmitted by insects such as mosquitos and midges, has been detected in Germany (originally in Schmallenberg), the Netherlands, Belgium, France, the UK, Italy, Luxembourg and Spain.

The EU said the virus is similar to one found in Asia, Africa and Australia (akbane of the genus orthobunyvirus), and both are not considered a danger to humans. Countries’ reactions should be proportionate to the situation, the EU said. It added that it has not taken any trade measures against the virus and urged other countries not to do so either.

Brazil has notified emergency measures on imports of genetic materials from these animals (document G/SPS/N/BRA/798), but other countries are reported to have taken similar action without notifying the WTO.

Some of the specific trade concerns

(See also “PS” below)


New issues

Jakarta port closure. The US, supported by the EU, Australia, Chile, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa complained about Indonesia’s plan to close four ports for imports of fruit and vegetables, including the Port of Jakarta (Tanjung Priok), originally scheduled for 19 March, but postponed until 19 June 2012.

They said the vast majority of horticultural imports (90%, according to the US and New Zealand), enter through Jakarta, and that the use of alternative ports will add several days of transportation, increasing costs and affecting the shelf life of perishable produce.

Indonesia cited food safety and plant health reasons but did not notify any phytosanitary issues involving American fruit and vegetable exports, the US said. Nor has any scientific justification been produced, it said.

Canada, which does not export much fruit and vegetables to Indonesia, said that it is concerned that the measure could be extended to meat and other animal products.

Indonesia said the closure is needed because the ports to be closed do not have enough laboratory and quarantine facilities to deal with threats found in imported products. Four seaports and one airport will stay open for these imports, and the postponement to 19 June is designed to give trade partners enough time to set up new infrastructure such as warehouses, it said.

China’s tests for food additives. India asked China questions about its proposed testing methods to identify physical and chemical contents of substances in food additives. It commented that the methods do not conform to any international standards and asked China about the scientific basis for the regulations. China said it had only just received the questions and would convey them to Beijing for a reply.

EU controls for aluminium in noodles. China complained about the EU’s restrictions on imports of noodles and other flour products containing aluminium, arguing that the threshold level is too strict and the number of inspections is too high. The EU replied that aluminium is harmful and therefore banned in food additives. Since it can occur naturally, a threshold of 10mg/kg is allowed, any higher level is taken to indicate its presence in additives. Levels of 50mg/kg were found in Chinese noodles, triggering an increased control frequency of 10%, it said. If the levels fall, controls will be less frequent, the EU added.


Some issues raised in previous meetings

Ractopamine (specific trade concern no. 275). The US, Canada, and Brazil continue to object to Chinese Taipei’s ban on meat fed with ractopamine, a beta-agonist drug mixed with feed that boosts growth and promotes leanness in pigs and cattle. They repeated their argument that scientific evidence shows ractopamine is safe, including findings from the Joint Export Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) under the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (FAO).

They urged Chinese Taipei to allow imports by adopting the minimum residue level (MRL) it had been planning to introduce, as notified to the WTO in 2007, and the US urged all members to ensure their measures are based on science and do not unnecessarily impede trade. Chinese Taipei, which has not lifted the ban, said it would report the comments back to its capital.

The issue was discussed in greater depth in June 2011. Countries have not been able to agree on a proposed international standard  in the FAO-WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission.

EU Regulation on Novel Foods (238). Peru, supported by Cuba, Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Paraguay continued to be concerned about the treatment of their indigenous and traditional products which are treated as “new” in the EU market because they have no significant history of consumption in that market. The EU repeated that an attempt to change the rules began in January 2008 but common ground was not found within the EU on this. The EU is considering how to achieve this, so novel foods can have quicker access to the EU market, it said.

China’s methanol content limit in alcoholic drinks (278). Mexico, supported by the US and EU, continued to complain about a proposed limit on methanol alcohol in distilled spirits not made from grain, which it said is now 2grams/litre, when according to the Mexican standard, tequila contains up to 3g/l. China said the regulation has not been issued yet and promised to take the comments into account.

US and EU limits on pesticide residues in rice (328 and 306). India complained about strict US residue levels for the pesticide tricyclazole in Basmati rice and EU levels for a number of pesticides, although it welcomed the recent decision to ease the limit on isoprothiolane. It urged the two to base their limits on science or international standards, or to use a provision in the SPS Agreement allowing countries to adopt the standards of other countries — India cited limits applied in Japan and Rep. of Korea.


Since the beginning: 328 concerns

The number of SPS trade concerns raised between 1995 — when the WTO was set up and the SPS Agreement took effect — and 2011 totalled 328, according to the Secretariat’s latest round up, 87-page document G/SPS/GEN/204/Rev.12. (The total will be 331 when the three new concerns raised in this meeting are added.)

Number of new issues raised per year

In 2011, 16 new concerns were raised, well below the 2002 peak of 43. The largest number of concerns over the 17 years were about animal health and diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans (“zoonoses”); 29% were about food safety, 25% about plant health and 6% about other issues such as certification requirements or translation.

Animal health issues dominate

Among the issues under animal health and transmissible diseases (zoonoses): 35% were about mad cow disease (transmissible spongiform encephalopathies or TSEs, particularly bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE); 24% were about foot and mouth disease; 10% were about bird flu (avian influenza); and 31% about other concerns.

Developing countries are increasingly active in raising concerns: since 2008, they raised half or more of the new concerns in each year. Over the 17 years, developed countries raised 201 concerns, developing countries raised 173 concerns, sometimes with more than one raising or supporting an issue, and least developed countries raised three. (Details are in the document and in the database http://spsims.wto.org.)

Private sector standards

Explanation: here

The chair reported that informal consultations earlier in the week produced additional ideas for developing a definition of private standards (document G/SPS/W/265), which will be revised for the next consultations in July.

Members continued to discuss the rest of the five items on the table, she said (see March 2011 meeting).

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.

Ad hoc mediation

Earlier in the week, delegations continued their informal consultations on enhancing procedures for the chairperson to help broker solutions to problems they have with each other’s measures and avoid bringing legal disputes against each other.

The chairperson reported that in the discussion of the latest draft, “members mostly expressed their preference for one set of alternative phrases or another, and did not reach consensus on these paragraphs.” Therefore the next draft will be similar to the present one, she said.

She identified five issues that members have to resolve and urged them to consult with each other in order to seek solutions:

  • whether the procedure would be compulsory or voluntary for the country complained against
  • transparency and confidentiality
  • the role of the mediator or “facilitator”
  • timetables for the stages of the procedure
  • 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)


Chairperson: Ms Miriam Beatriz Chaves, Argentina (acting chair because Mr Deny Kurnia of Indonesia has left Geneva)

Next meetings

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


  • 10–11 July 2012
  • 17–18 October 2012



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

Information from members

  • European Union — recent detection of the Schmallenberg virus
  • Japan — response to the nuclear plant accident
  • Philippines — project on standards harmonization and SPS conformity
  • United States — proposed bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) comprehensive rule
  • New Zealand — change of name for the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (G/SPS/GEN/1142)
  • Cameroon — maximum limit of lead, cadmium and mercury applicable to cocoa, and cocoa by-products
  • Chile — compartmentalisation for managing SPS risks

Specific trade concerns

Document G/SPS/GEN/204/REV.12

New issues

  • China’s testing methods for food additives — concerns of India
  • Indonesia’s port closure — concerns of the United States
  • EU limits of aluminium in flour products (G/SPS/N/EEC/341) — concerns of China

Issues previously raised

(Numbers are “specific trade concerns” numbers in the database)

  • Import restrictions due to BSE — concerns of the European Union (no. 193)
  • Chinese Taipei’s prohibition on ractopamine in beef and pork — concerns of the United States (no. 275)
  • China’s requirement for registration and supervision of foreign enterprises — concerns of India (no. 324)
  • Viet Nam’s ban on offals — concerns of the European Union and the United States (no. 314)
  • Japan’s prohibition of certain food additives — concerns of India (no. 307)
  • China’s quarantine and testing procedures for salmon — concerns of Norway (no. 319)
  • US default MRLs, limits of determination or limits of quantification on basmati rice — concerns of India (no. 328)
  • Application and modification of the EU regulation on novel foods (G/SPS/GEN/1137) — concerns of Peru (no. 238)
  • China’s hygiene standard for distilled spirits and integrated alcoholic beverages — concerns of Mexico (no. 278)
  • EU maximum residue levels of pesticides — concerns of India (no. 306)
  • South Africa’s import restrictions on pork meat — concerns of Brazil (no. 287)
  • US Food Safety Modernization Act — concerns of India (no. 299)

Consideration of specific notifications received

  • (none)

Information on resolution of issues

  • (none)

This meeting’s magic number


— the age of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), one of the “three sisters” recognized as international standards-setting bodies in the WTO SPS Agreement, which is 43 years younger.


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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