SANITARY AND PHYTOSANITARY MEASURES: FORMAL MEETING

Note

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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Specific trade concerns

Members highlighted a range of measures that set standards on food safety and animal and plant health, which many agri-exporters said were too stringent and impeded trade, especially to the detriment of farmers from developing countries. A record number of WTO members and observers intervened at the meeting.

EU: maximum residue levels for pesticides

Peru voiced concerns over the European Union's maximum residue levels for three pesticides - acrinathrin, matalaxyl and thiabendazole. In particular, thiabendazole is commonly used to control fungal infection in mangoes, and the low residue limits imposed by the EU have caused a decline in Peruvian mango exports.  Peru argued that the requirement set more stringent limits than is recommended by the Codex Alimentarius and is more trade-restrictive than necessary.

The concern was shared by a wide range of WTO members, including Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nigeria and the United States, which noted that the standards have a negative impact on trade of a number of agricultural products. The US added that the new standards also affected its sweet potato exports.

The EU, in its response, noted the stricter standards were based on scientific studies by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and it had also provided information on alternative plant protection products to replace thiabendozole use on mangoes.

EU: maximum level for cadmium in foodstuffs

Peru further questioned the European Union on its maximum permitted level of cadmium in foodstuffs, particularly in cocoa products. As one of the major cocoa producers in the world, Peru was concerned that the EU's intended requirements could impede its cocoa exports and were already affecting the international price of the commodity.

The concern was echoed by other Latin American and African cocoa exporters, including Colombia, Costa Rica, Cote d'Ivoire, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Guatemala, Madagascar, Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Colombia noted that cocoa cultivation is part of its national strategy to diversify from illicit products, and the EU's regulation on cadmium levels could affect the progress of this initiative and the livelihood of farmers. Costa Rica said cadmium is naturally present in cocoa due to the soil conditions, and called on the EU to take into account the discussions under way in the Codex Alimentarius Commission regarding cadmium in cocoa.

The EU, in its response, said that it had already deferred the implementation of the maximum cadmium limits until 2019 due to concerns by its trading partners. The scope of the regulation had also set the limits on blended products, such as cocoa powders or chocolate products, rather than on cocoa beans, to facilitate compliance. The EU further listed studies to justify that the limit was based on a risk assessment and was necessary to protect human health.

India: fumigation requirements

India's fumigation requirements once again received strong reactions among WTO members. Colombia questioned India's requirement for teak tree wood imports to be fumigated using a chemical called methyl bromide. The concern was shared by Belize, Costa Rica and Liberia. They argued methyl bromide had been banned in many countries because it damages the ozone layer, and India's requirement hinders both their exports and their efforts to protect the environment.

In a separate agenda item, Senegal repeated its concern about a similar fumigation requirement for cashew nuts, supported by Burkina Faso, Colombia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nigeria, Togo, Ukraine and the United States. Some members noted that India's fumigation requirement also affected other agricultural products, such as peas and pulses. They stressed that although members respected India’s right to protect plant health, measures should be commensurate with the risks, and urged India to acknowledge other treatments that could achieve the same level of protection.

Russia withdrew a concern about fumigation of grain imports at the start of the meeting, reporting that it had made progress in bilateral discussions.

India, on its part, said that it had relaxed the measure to make sure that imports can be fumigated upon arrival, and is in consultation with members to find alternative solutions.

EU: criteria to identify endocrine disruptors

Some 20 members once again expressed concerns with the European Union’s proposed criteria to define chemicals that can interfere with hormone systems — endocrine disruptors.

The concern was initially raised by Argentina, China and the United States, and supported by Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, India, Israel, Madagascar, Mozambique, New Zealand, Nigeria, Peru, Senegal, Thailand, Togo and Uruguay.

The US noted that in October 2017, the European Parliament had rejected the European Commission's proposed criteria for identifying endocrine disruptors, with members essentially calling for stricter criteria that would lead to many additional substances being classified as endocrine disruptors and subsequently banned. It added that prolonged uncertainty on how the EU will move forward with regulating endocrine disruptors was detrimental on many fronts.

The EU, for its part, responded that it had acted in full transparency to inform WTO members of the proposed measure and its regulatory process. It explained that the original proposal on criteria for plant protection products had been rejected and returned to the Commission, and the latter was currently reflecting on the next steps.

EU: restrictions on poultry meat due to salmonella

Brazil raised concerns regarding the European Union's inspection and rejection of poultry meat shipments due to the detection of salmonella. Brazil argued that the EU authorities had applied a stricter standard than publicly announced. Brazil also requested the EU to provide scientific evidence as to why there are two separate criteria for fresh poultry meat and meat preparations.

The EU replied that its microbiological criteria for meat preparations are stricter than for fresh poultry meat. As salt is normally added to fresh poultry meat intended for export to the EU, the end product falls under the definition of meat preparations, and thus stricter standards apply.

EU: use of international standards on glyphosate

Under an agenda item on monitoring the use of international standards, Argentina and the United States took issue with the ongoing delays in the European Union to renew the authorization for glyphosate. The concern was also echoed by Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, New Zealand, Peru and Uruguay. Glyphosate is an herbicide widely used for weed control. Last month, EU member states failed to agree on whether to renew the approval of glyphosate.

The US said members' actions to restrict the use of glyphosate appear to lack scientific justification. It reminded members that the scientific body assessing risks that international standards rely on – the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) - concluded that glyphosate does not pose a risk to consumers or public health when used appropriately.

The EU said that there had been intensive internal discussions on the possible renewal of glyphosate, and the EU is committed to finding a solution that ensures a high level of protection for human health and the environment, and that is based on sound science.

No consensus on pesticide ministerial decision

Members were unable to reach consensus to endorse a decision on pesticide maximum residue levels (MRLs), which proponents hoped to put forward to trade ministers at the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC11) in Buenos Aires this December.

A pesticide MRL is the maximum amount of pesticide residue permitted to remain in or on food products to ensure that there is no risk to human health. The proposal from Kenya, Uganda and the United States noted that agricultural producers report growing concerns over the impact of missing and misaligned MRLs on their exports.

The three members circulated a draft ministerial decision, along with a set of recommendations to address the issue of pesticide MRLs, to the SPS Committee earlier in October. The latest revision of the document (G/SPS/W/292/Rev.2) contains five recommendations to enhance standards development, transparency and cooperation on the use of MRLs.

The proponents highlighted that missing MRLs, as well as differences between MRLs applied in different countries, can impede international trade in agricultural products, and urged members to share information and experiences on the development of MRLs on a voluntary basis. They also suggested strengthening the process for developing international standards, to promote harmonization. They stressed that bringing this matter to the highest decision-making body of the WTO would help raise the profile of MRL-related issues, injecting momentum to address the problem.

The Committee Chair, Mr Marcial Espínola Ramirez (Paraguay), reported that he had heard broad support for both the recommendations and the proposed ministerial decision. A few members indicated support for the recommendations but voiced concerns about a ministerial decision, while one member felt the recommendations and proposed decision did not fully address the full spectrum of issues related with MRLs, and therefore considered it premature to recommend the proposal to a higher WTO decision-making body.

In conclusion, the Committee Chair urged members to continue the discussion with their capitals and with each other, with a view to finding a solution.

Workshop on transparency

The Committee meeting was preceded by a workshop on information sharing of SPS measures from 30 to 31 October. The workshop included an overview of the transparency provisions in the SPS Agreement and the recommended procedures to share information, as well practical sessions on finding SPS information and submitting notifications. Members also shared their experiences and best practices for public consultations on new SPS regulations. Complete information on the workshop is available on the SPS Gateway.

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The SPS Information Management System (SPS IMS) includes all SPS-related measures notified by WTO members and the trade-related concerns discussed in previous SPS Committee meetings.

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