SANITARY AND PHYTOSANITARY MEASURES

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Members highlighted a range of measures that set standards on food safety and animal and plant health, and which many agri-exporters said were too stringent and impeded trade, especially to the detriment of farmers from developing countries. Five new specific trade concerns (STCs) and 12 previously raised concerns were addressed at the committee meeting, with a large number of WTO members contributing to the discussions.

Chinese Taipei provided information regarding the resolution of an STC first raised in March 2017, regarding Thailand's import restriction on papaya seeds, and Peru asked to remove from the agenda a new STC regarding Colombia's restrictions on coffee imports as well as a previous STC regarding the European Union's maximum level of cadmium in foodstuffs. China also withdrew an STC regarding EU measures on animal products.

The Committee was attended by the 24 participants in the 15th edition of the WTO’s Advanced Course on SPS measures. Since its inception in 2005, this flagship course has trained over 350 government officials, benefiting altogether 124 developing countries, 38 of them least developed countries. Director-General Roberto Azevêdo met with the participants and emphasised the important role that SPS plays in today’s agricultural trade, which is increasingly shaped by new technologies, a changing climate, and population growth. See more here.

New specific trade concerns (STCs)

EU regulation on high risk plants

Israel raised a concern regarding EU Regulation 2016/2031 on high risk plants, which could stop all existing trade for 36 new plant types on 14 December 2019 unless a pest risk assessment (PRA) and agreed upon entry requirements have been completed before that date. The United States, Canada and Kenya also expressed concern. They stressed that many of these products have been traded for years without any prior problems and that stopping imports on the 14 December cut-off date will have an immediate adverse impact on trade, without any clear or measurable improvement to the safety of EU imports. They asked the EU to explain what steps it has taken to minimize negative trade effects, and whether or not it considered provisional measures that would allow historically safe trade to continue while it seeks to obtain the information necessary for a more objective pest risk assessment.

The EU responded that it is resorting to its prerogative of increasing its level of protection after concluding that the previous level was insufficient. The EU stated that the new system introduces the concept of pest-risk assessment (PRA), which applies to all trading partners, and noted that it is a provisional measure by definition, as it will remain in place until the finalization of the risk assessment. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has provided guidance and information on how to prepare the necessary export dossiers for these products, and every effort has been made to avoid or minimize trade disruption, added the EU, which also said it took note of the concerns raised.  

Thailand's approval procedures for animal products

Brazil and the European Union raised concerns regarding Thailand's approval procedures for imports of pork and other animal products and what they considered unjustified and long delays for approving imports. In the case of the EU, for example, applications from 11 member States are pending, some of them since 2011. Brazil and the EU noted that Thailand treats every single application separately, and stressed that synergies could be exploited, and the overall approval process accelerated without any loss of scrutiny, if applications were bundled and redundant steps eliminated.

Thailand responded that the applied import procedures for livestock products are clear, transparent, trustworthy and traceable, as well as fully compliant with WTO rules and recommendations. Market access procedures are based on risk analysis in conformity with SPS measures, added Thailand, which said it recently approved EU imports of a number of pork, beef and poultry products, including processed animal proteins derived from swine, bovine and poultry. Regarding Brazil, Thailand reported that an inspection mission on beef establishments in Brazil has been completed and a questionnaire for the evaluation of import of poultry products has been provided to the authorities and is now awaiting their responses.

Philippines' restrictions on meat imports

The European Union also raised a concern regarding the Philippines' restrictions on meat imports. According to the EU, these restrictions do not adhere to agreed international standards, nor do they apply the regionalization principles towards the EU.  They also maintain scientifically unjustified country–wide bans on imports of meat products from EU member states on grounds of African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreak. According to the EU, these measures currently apply to nine EU member states even though one of the states affected by the bans (Germany) has never had any outbreak of ASF in its territory, and another (Czech Republic) has been free from ASF for more than 18 months.

In its response, the Philippines stressed that AFS is a highly contagious disease that has the capacity to rapidly spread, multiply and remain virulent for weeks and even months, regardless of borders. As there is currently no effective vaccine or treatment, ASF disease can cause huge economic losses and severely affect food security, said the Philippines, which assured members that meat import restrictions from countries with ASF outbreaks are a provisional precautionary measure consistent with the SPS Agreement. The Philippines recognized that this measure has restricted international trade and said it remains optimistic that through co-operation, it would be able to overcome the current situation.

EU's imports of processed hoof and horn

Indonesia voiced concerns regarding the sanitary requirements of Germany for the importation of processed hooves and horn, which has a substantial commercial potential for both Indonesia and Germany as an ingredient for fertilizers. Indonesia said that it has followed the established process approach in requesting market access through Germany's Ministry of Food and Agriculture but is still awaiting clarification regarding the sanitary requirements. It also expressed its willingness to work closely on this issue with Germany and the European Union in following the various procedural steps yet to be undertaken before obtaining market access.

The European Union said this issue is harmonized at the EU level through a regulation laying down the requirements and conditions for the production and importation of animal by-products. After receiving in March this year the first enquiry from Indonesia concerning the import procedure, several bilateral discussions have been held. The EU is currently examining the submitted documentation, and its internal consultation procedure is ongoing. The EU added that it wants to find a solution as soon as possible and is committed to keep Indonesia informed about the developments and the outcome of its assessment.

Russia's maximum levels for contaminants

Indonesia also raised its concern regarding the Russian Federation's maximum levels for certain contaminants, such as 3-MCPD and glycidyl ester in vegetable oils, including palm oil products. As one of the world’s largest producers of vegetable oils, with 43 million tons of production in 2018, Indonesia indicated that the new maximum limit set by the Russian Federation will not only affect Indonesia but also other vegetable oil-producing countries. Underlining that SPS measures taken by any member shall be applied only to the extent necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health, and in a manner that does not constitute a disguised restriction on international trade, Indonesia asked the Russian Federation for clarification on the reasoning and scientific justification of the new maximum limit.

In its response, the Russian Federation justified its decision on the need to protect animal and human life and said that it is both consistent with WTO obligations and scientific evidence and research undertaken on this matter by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Issues previously raised

STCs previously brought up in the SPS Committee included five EU SPS-related policies: maximum residue levels (MRLs) for several pesticides; legislation on endocrine disruptors; new MRLs for the insecticide lambda-cyhalothrin; and the new definition of the fungicide folpet.

The EU also raised previously addressed issues, including South Africa's import restrictions on poultry due to highly pathogenic avian influenza; China's country-wide import restrictions also due to highly pathogenic avian influenza; US import restrictions on apples and pears; Indonesia's approval procedures for animal and plant products; and general concerns regarding import restrictions due to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

In addition, the Committee heard concerns regarding Turkey's foot-and-mouth disease (FMD)-related import restrictions on live cattle from Argentina; Ukraine's restrictions on swine products from Brazil; and Mexico's measures on imports of hibiscus flowers from Senegal.

Implementation of transparency provisions

Members were given an overview on the level of implementation of the transparency provisions of the SPS Agreement. Under the SPS Agreement, each member of the WTO has obligations relating to transparency. For example, countries are required to publish all sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS measures) and notify changes to SPS measures. In implementing the agreement, countries are required to identify a single central government authority to be responsible for the notification requirements of the SPS Agreement (the notification authority). Also, countries are required to establish an enquiry point responsible for answering questions from other countries about SPS measures and related issues (the enquiry point).

The Secretariat circulated its annual report which shows that, as of 15 September 2019, 128 members out of 164 (78%) had submitted at least one notification to the WTO. Members which have not yet submitted any notification include 12 developing countries and 15 LDCs.

The report shows a global increasing trend in the number of notifications over the years and new interesting data concerning the use of notifications by members according to their development status, the type of notification and the information provided. It also concludes that, in light of the steadily increasing volume of documents, managing the flow of notifications, and coordinating at the national level to be able to benefit from a transparent system, is a challenge for many members.

This is one of the areas where members have sought technical assistance and guidance on best practices in order to enhance their transparency mechanisms, and the report reveals that some members significantly increased their notifications following training on transparency. Additionally, transparency workshops, usually organized every other year, provide highly interactive training on the use of the SPS Information Management System (IMS), SPS Notification Submission System (NSS) and the ePing alert system.

Other relevant data: The use of available tools is constantly increasing and, to date 85, members have requested access to the online SPS NSS, and 46 have submitted notifications through the system. From 1 January to 15 September 2019, about 75% of notifications were submitted via the SPS NSS. Also, nearly 8,000 users from both the public and private sectors are registered to receive ePing notification alerts.

Fifth review

Members made progress on the Fifth Review of the Operation and Implementation of the SPS Agreement, which is set for completion in 2020. New and revised proposals were submitted and discussed. These covered  the promotion of science-based procedures for the implementation of the SPS Agreement, including procedures for situations where scientific evidence is insufficient, the role of the three standard setting bodies (Codex Alimentarius, the International Plant Protection Convention and the World Organisation for Animal Health) in addressing STCs in the committee, and voluntary third-party assurance schemes.

Also, in the context of the Fifth Review, the committee held a thematic session on approval procedures on 5 November. Building on the workshop related to  control, inspection and approval procedures held on 9-10 July 2019, the session focused on approval procedures related to products or categories of products that require approval as a prerequisite to their importation or placing on the market, including for approval of the use of additives or for the establishment of tolerances for contaminants in food, beverages or feedstuffs. Speakers addressed the perspectives of importing and exporting members, including the private sector, as well as the challenges and costs associated to approval procedures.

Next meeting

The next meeting is scheduled for the week of 16 March 2020, with a Thematic Session on Voluntary Third-Party Assurance Programmes on 17 March, an informal meeting on 18 March, and the regular Committee meeting on 19 and 20 March.

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