SANITARY AND PHYTOSANITARY MEASURES
The 30 co-sponsors of the proposed MC12 SPS Declaration on “Responding to Modern SPS Challenges” provided further insights into the Declaration, highlighting the neutral way in which elements were presented in the document. They also clarified the proposed process for the implementation of a work programme. Noting the wide agreement on the importance of sustainability, as well as some of the concerns raised by members, co-sponsors intend to confirm the broad support for the initiative in the 22-23 November General Council meeting, with a view to achieving consensus on the Declaration being a deliverable at MC12.
Members also discussed a related background document on “New Opportunities and Emerging Challenges in International Trade in Food, Animals and Plants” to highlight the relevance of the Declaration and advance the discussions in the Committee. This paper outlines scientific evidence and global trends regarding some of the critical topics listed in the SPS Declaration: population growth and distribution; changing climatic conditions and associated stresses on food production; shifting pressures due to pests and diseases; and innovation in tools and technologies.
The Committee agreed to hold a thematic session in March 2022 on trade facilitative approaches to pesticide maximum residue levels (MRLs), including substances not approved for use in an import market. This topic was proposed by Australia, Colombia, Paraguay and the United States (G/SPS/GEN/1947).
In June 2022, the Committee will hold a thematic session on the use of virtual audits and verification systems in regulatory frameworks, following a submission by Australia (G/SPS/GEN/1949/Rev.1). Also in June, the Committee will hold a one-day workshop on transparency, where members will be able to learn about a new platform integrating SPS and technical barriers to trade (TBT) online tools. Finally, in November 2022 the Committee will hold a thematic session on international standards and best practices in pest risk identification, assessment and management, as proposed by the European Union (G/SPS/GEN/1951/Rev.1).
A thematic session on the procedure to monitor the process of international harmonization was held on 2 November at the proposal of New Zealand. Following an overview of the relevant provisions of the SPS Agreement on international harmonization, the international standard-setting bodies (ISSBs), the Central American Organismo Internacional Regional de Sanidad Agropecuaria (OIRSA) and several members presented their initiatives on the monitoring and the use of international standards.
Under the Committee's information-sharing agenda item, the European Union, Norway and Switzerland intervened in support of the Global Transition towards Sustainable Food Systems initiative, proposing that the WTO, including the SPS Committee, should play a major role in supporting sustainability objectives in relation to trade in agricultural and fishery products.
They referred to the United Nations Food Systems Summit of 23-24 September 2021, confirming that sustainable food systems were critical for delivering on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Members were invited to help shape a work programme to address issues regarding the transition to sustainable food systems in relation to international trade. The starting point of the discussion would be the identification of a list of policy objectives that could be legitimately pursued, considering the need to mainstream sustainability aspects in all relevant fora. The SPS Committee, as well as other relevant committees, could report on key findings to the WTO's 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13), including recommendations, they said.
Several members agreed that sustainability needed to be a priority for their work, highlighting the importance of building sustainable food systems. Some questioned the SPS Committee's mandate to discuss all aspects of sustainable food systems, while others emphasized that in their view, the proposed MC12 Declaration was the best way to launch this work.
Japan updated the Committee on the food safety situation following the Fukushima nuclear power station accident 10 years ago. The United States presented the results of its Food and Drug Administration (FDA) traceability challenge, which encourages organizations from all disciplines to present food traceability solutions that are affordable, create shared-value, and can be scaled to encourage widespread adoption. The European Union reported on increased official controls and emergency measures governing the entry into its territory of certain food and feed of non-animal origin from certain third countries.
Concerning regionalization, Ukraine informed the Committee of its self-declaration on freedom from avian influenza. The United States shared information on the established of African swine fever protection zones. Canada and the United States presented their technical assistance programmes, while Belize informed the Committee of its participation in a technical assistance programme by OIRSA.
Specific trade concerns
Members addressed 44 specific trade concerns (STCs), seven of which were raised for the first time. Four STCs (one new and three previously raised) were removed from the agenda of the meeting prior to its adoption, following progress made in bilateral consultations. Discussions addressed a variety of topics, including restrictions and approval procedures for imports of animal and plant products, pesticide policies and MRLs.
Most of the new STCs raised related to undue delays in approval procedures. Among the previously raised concerns, the majority referred to food safety (17) and procedural concerns (17). Members also discussed actions related to COVID-19 that affect trade. Mexico and Panama reported on the resolution of a concern on the authorization of federal inspection type establishments following the temporary authorization of a list of meat establishments.
Both new and previously raised issues can be found in the password protected eAgenda system for members, which allows them to submit agenda items, statements and STCs online. Further information can also be found in the publicly available SPS Information Management System
The WTO Secretariat provided an update on SPS COVID-19 related documents. Of the 427 notifications received by the WTO, 27 per cent were received under the SPS Agreement. This corresponds to 112 notifications and other communications related to COVID-19 submitted by 30 members. Approximately 59 per cent of these documents were submitted in the first six months of the pandemic — between February and July 2020 — while the remaining 41 per cent were submitted in the following 11 months. More information is available in the WTO's COVID 19 and world trade web page.
Good regulatory practices
At a side event in the margins of the SPS Committee meeting, the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF) launched a practical guide to support the use of good regulatory practices (GRPs). Using GRPs improves the quality and effectiveness of SPS measures so that they are fit for purpose, a win-win for governments and traders, especially when resources are limited. The benefits include improved compliance with the WTO SPS Agreement and greater alignment with international standards, as well as a reduced regulatory burden and increased trust in SPS regulatory processes.
The STDF Guide includes step-by-step guidance on GRPs, examples of their use, and links to resources.
The Committee agreed to extend the mandate of the Working Group on Approval Procedures for another year, following the conclusion on 1 November of its third round of work. The working group was created in November 2020 as a result of the Fifth Review of the Operation and Implementation of the SPS Agreement. Twenty-five members and one observer organization, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), are part of this working group.
The next meeting of the Committee is tentatively scheduled for 23‑25 March 2022. The proposed calendar of meetings for 2022 is contained in document G/SPS/GEN/1910.