The workshop brought together officials responsible for implementing the WTO's Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) Agreement, national regulators, the relevant international standard-setting organizations and scientific bodies for an in-depth discussion, at a technical level, of pesticide maximum residue levels and their effects on trade.
Speakers highlighted that it can be costly to comply with MRLs. Where pesticides have not been registered, MRLs are often set at levels of detection so that even very low levels found in traded products can lead to trade interruptions. And when MRLs for older pesticides are no longer valid, food products containing residues of these pesticides are rejected at the border of the importing country. This means that producers in exporting countries need to switch to newer pesticides. However, it can be extremely costly and very difficult to find safe alternatives that are affordable, especially for producers in developing countries.
Risk assessors and regulators with scarce resources at national, regional and international levels find it difficult to keep up with the growing demand for evaluations of rapidly increasing numbers of pesticides in various food products. Speakers and participants discussed possible solutions, including harmonization of MRLs based on the standards of Codex Alimentarius, regional approaches to evaluating risks, and setting MRLs for groups of similar products at the same time. Various speakers also highlighted the importance of coordination, collaboration and communication in the MRL establishment process.
Throughout the two-day workshop, participants benefited from detailed presentations on the relevance of the SPS Agreement to pesticide MRLs, the Codex approach to establishing MRLs as well as various regional and international initiatives focused on harmonizing MRLs and establishing MRLs for minor-use crops (i.e. crops for which pesticide manufacturers do not find it commercially interesting to produce the data packages required for a risk assessment that would allow the establishment of an MRL). In addition, various WTO members shared their national experiences on establishing MRLs and provided insights into the challenges of implementing and complying with Codex MRLs as well as the impact of default MRLs and MRL expiration on international trade.
Speakers from the private sector also contributed to the workshop, highlighting the various ways for the private sector to be involved in establishing MRLs, such as by providing the relevant data. The programme of the workshop can be found in G/SPS/GEN/1514/Rev.1.Close to 180 participants attended the workshop, including Geneva- and capital-based delegates and regulators as well as participants from intergovernmental organizations and speakers from the private sector. The WTO Global Trust Fund made it possible to cover the costs of travel for 27 participants and several of the speakers in the workshop. The workshop was also attended by WTO-funded participants from the 2016 Advanced SPS Course.