SANITARY AND PHYTOSANITARY MEASURES

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The note provides an overview of the current issues and the status of legal frameworks and planned future actions to control the spread, via trade, of diseases affecting human health that originate in animals. It stresses that safe trade in animals and animal products is possible, with the existing guidance for trade in animals and animal products and the international legal framework based on science-based interventions to manage risk.

The report highlights that the Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures is the forum where WTO members can exchange information and discuss their approaches to SPS measures adopted to address the risk of COVID-19 and other zoonoses, while other WTO committees can serve as discussion fora for related issues. The SPS Committee also provides a “peer-review mechanism” for members to comment on other members' SPS measures and share relevant information on good practices and scientific evidence, helping to improve the quality of regulation in this area and ensuring that trade measures contribute to fighting diseases of animal origin.

While COVID-19 is by far the worst such recent outbreak, the note observes that the pandemic has underscored the risk animal diseases pose to human health, with some 56 zoonoses together responsible for around 2.5 billion cases of human illness and 2.7 million human deaths a year even before the pandemic. Other relevant data in the paper indicate that around 20 per cent of livestock production is lost due to animal diseases every year, leading to an estimated annual economic loss within the sector of about US$ 300 billion, with important implications for livelihoods, food security and nutrition worldwide.

The publication also recognizes that managing risks related to emerging diseases of animal origin requires multi-sectoral cooperation with other international organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

According to both the WHO and the OIE, the COVID-19 pandemic is being sustained through human-to-human transmission and not through international trade in animals and animal products. Trade in animals and animal products can take place safely if risk reduction measures are applied based on international standards. However, as indicated in the document, risks associated with trade in animals and animal products, including wildlife, may increase when animal disease risks are not monitored and controlled.

The report concludes that implementing existing guidance and developing more detailed standards and guidance for particular risk factors requires engagement at the international level, and investment to ensure that domestic, regional and global public, veterinary and environmental health systems are well prepared and have a solid basis for collaboration.

The report can be found here.

Key points:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the risk that animal diseases pose to human health. A 2012 study estimated that some 56 zoonoses (i.e. diseases affecting human health that originate in animals) were together responsible for around 2.5 billion cases of human illness and 2.7 million human deaths a year. The impact of COVID-19 has far eclipsed that of other recent outbreaks of such diseases. Experts warn that zoonotic pandemics may become more frequent due to factors including further environmental degradation, intensive farming practices, and the effects of climate change.
  • WTO rules recognize the right of WTO members to take measures to protect human, animal and plant health. The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) underscores their right to take measures to address the health risks arising from the spread of zoonoses through international trade in animals and animal products, including wildlife, while aiming to avoid unjustified trade barriers.
  • The SPS Agreement strongly encourages WTO members to base their SPS measures on certain international standards. In the area of animal health and zoonoses, it recognizes the standards developed by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
  • According to both the World Health Organization (WHO) and OIE, the COVID-19 pandemic is being sustained through human-to-human transmission and not through international trade in animals and animal products. Based on currently available information, and with the support of expert advisory groups, the OIE does not recommend that any COVID-19-related sanitary measures be applied to the international movement of live animals or animal products without a justifying risk analysis. Trade in animals and animal products can take place safely if risk reduction measures are applied based on international standards.
  • Risks associated with trade in animals and animal products, including wildlife, may increase when animal disease risks are not monitored and controlled. The OIE Working Group on Wildlife and other international organizations are examining how better to address sanitary risks linked to wildlife trade. Efforts are also being made to address illegal wildlife trade.
  • Around 20 per cent of livestock production is lost due to animal diseases every year — leading to an estimated annual economic loss within the sector of about US$ 300 billion. The impact of COVID-19, which primarily affects people, has already dwarfed these figures. Global economic output is projected to shrink by 4.5% in 2020 because of the pandemic, according to estimates by the IMF. As of 6 October 2020, WTO economists expect global trade to contract by 9.2 per cent in 2020.
  • Recognizing that managing risks related to emerging diseases of animal origin requires multi-sectoral and multi-institutional cooperation, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), OIE and WHO are collaborating on a One Health approach, while the WTO houses the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF), a global partnership which helps developing countries to engage in safe trade. Trade in animals and animal products was worth US$ 367.5 billion in 2018, with important implications for livelihoods, food security and nutrition worldwide.
  •  The SPS Committee and other WTO committees provide fora for members to discuss trade measures adopted to address the risk of COVID-19 and other zoonoses, thus helping to ensure that trade measures contribute to enhancing future resilience and prevention. Specific trade concerns related to animal diseases and zoonoses, including emerging diseases, and their effects on trade, account for 35 per cent of all trade concerns raised in the SPS Committee.

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