With over 230 delegates attending remotely, the meeting once again saw a high level of engagement, including on the discussion concerning the proposal for a Sanitary and Phytosanitary Declaration for the 12th Ministerial Conference (G/SPS/GEN/1758/Rev.5). The SPS Declaration is co-sponsored by 22 delegations: Argentina, Australia, Belize, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Senegal, Singapore, Tajikistan, the United States of America, Uruguay and Viet Nam.

These members explained that the Declaration provides an avenue for the SPS Committee to raise the profile of its work and establish a forward-looking and proactive agenda for the coming years. They emphasized the timeliness for the Committee and WTO members to underline the benefits of the SPS Agreement and take stock of the evolving nature of the global agriculture landscape since 1995, in particular the new opportunities and pressures relating to international trade in food, animals and plants. These include adapting to population growth, climate change and technological innovation. The need to reinforce the message that trade in general — and particularly, trade in food — must take place in full compatibility with sustainable development was also underlined.

Some members proposed including additional aspects in the proposal, such as sustainable food systems, biodiversity, animal welfare and consumer expectations, and to frame the text within the wider context of other WTO agreements. Other members highlighted certain aspects of implementation for improvement, such as risk assessment, raising of the same specific trade concerns (STCs) in Committee meetings, regionalization and equivalence.

A group of members supported the co-sponsors' views on the importance of science-based measures and improving transparency through timely notifications. They noted the call for members' strengthened adherence to supporting international trade while ensuring human, animal and plant life or health, which was especially relevant during COVID-19 times. While some delegations reiterated their reservations and said they were still considering their position on the Declaration, they expressed their willingness to participate in the process and to contribute to revising the text ahead of MC12.

Specific trade concerns

Members raised 46 trade concerns, 11 of them addressed for the first time in this committee. Discussions addressed a variety of topics, including restrictions and approval procedures for imports of animal and plant products, pesticide policies and maximum residue levels (MRLs), and actions related to COVID-19 that affect trade. Members also discussed certification requirements for food derived from genetically modified organisms, approvals for new listing and reinstatement of export establishments, the renewal of authorizations for plants, fishery and livestock enterprises, and administrative delays in approval procedures.

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.

COVID-19 and SPS issues

The WTO Secretariat provided updates on COVID-19 and SPS issues, reporting a total of 86 SPS notifications and other communications related to COVID-19 submitted by members. Attention was drawn to the assessments by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other bodies, which found no evidence that food could be a source of COVID-19. Some members expressed concern regarding testing and certification requirements for imported food products implemented by other members, and requested that they share data, studies or risk assessments supporting such requirements.

Members highlighted the value of the revised WTO Secretariat note Standards, regulations and COVID-19 — what actions taken by WTO members?, available on the COVID-19 gateway of the WTO website.

SPS Agreement Fifth Review

As part of the follow-up to the Fifth Review of the Operation and Implementation of the SPS Agreement, a thematic session on African swine fever (ASF) was held on 23 March. The objective of the event was to provide members with an opportunity to increase their awareness of regionalization principles, and to learn from each other by sharing experiences about the challenges and benefits of defining safe trading conditions for pigs, pork and pork products.

The WTO Secretariat presented the work of the SPS Committee on this topic, highlighting the importance of adaptation to regional conditions, including recognition of disease free areas and areas of low disease prevalence. The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) presented an overview of the international standards relevant to the disease and the epidemiological situation worldwide. Representatives from the FAO provided data on the economic impact of ASF on global meat and feed markets and global pork supply, highlighting the significant economic losses experienced by farmers.

Members from Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas, ranging from territories where the disease is endemic in wildlife to others where it is absent, shared their trade strategies. Preparedness, research, regionalization measures based on science and in line with international standards, public awareness, international cooperation, and the availability of transparent information to trading partners were underlined as vital to ensure safe trade.

Also, in the context of the Fifth Review, members advanced discussions on the Workshop on Risk Assessment, Risk Management and Risk Communication proposed by Canada, which will be held in July 2021 before the next Committee meeting. Separate proposals for a thematic session on pesticide maximum residue limits (MRLs) and a thematic session on international harmonization following a proposal  to modernize the Committee's procedure for monitoring the process of international harmonization were also discussed.

The Committee was informed of the work of the Working Group on Approval Procedures (G/SPS/W/328/Rev.1), which concluded its first round of discussions. It will move to the second round with written exchanges and a subsequent meeting to take place on the margins of the July 2021 SPS Committee meeting. The development of a common understanding of “approval procedures” or otherwise clarifying the scope of work was considered by some members as an essential first step to have convergence in discussions within the Working Group. Some participants highlighted that the discussions should be centred on the implementation of the SPS Agreement as it relates to approval procedures. Others stressed the focus of the work should be on the implementation challenges that members face with approval procedures and on developing good practices or tools to help address these challenges.

Next meeting

The next regular meeting of the SPS Committee is tentatively scheduled for 15-16 July 2021.




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