In a report on
the agreements implementation, the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures
Committee emphasized that the agreement is still a new framework for dealing with
regulations and actions related to food safety and animal and plant health.
some of the WTOs 134 member governments remain concerned about some aspects of its
implementation, the agreements contribution to improved trading relations includes
the resolution of several issues through discussions in the committee, the report says.
report is the outcome of a review of the first three and half years of the WTO Agreement
on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. It was approved at todays meeting of the SPS
Committee. Sanitary measures deal with animal health and food safety issues. Phytosanitary
measures do the same for plants.
SPS Agreement came into being on 1 January 1995 with the creation of the WTO. It
was an innovation of the 198694 Uruguay Round of trade negotiations.
agreement strikes a balance between consumer protection and avoiding the use of food
safety and animal and plant health as disguised trade protectionism.
says governments measures should be based on science and should not discriminate
among foreign sources of supply. It encourages the use of international standards.
few SPS issues have become high-profile disputes in the WTO. But the report points out
that formal disputes have been avoided in several other cases because of discussions under
discussions on particular implementation problems at its formal meetings had helped to
draw attention to specific trade concerns and related issues and to avoid potential trade
conflict," it says.
report does not go into details, but among recent subjects the committee has discussed are
new EU limits for aflatoxin (a cancer-causing poison associated with a fungus) in a number
of products, a US restriction on certain solid wood packaging materials designed to combat
infestation of Asian longhorn beetles, and various countries measures in response to
bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or "mad cow disease").
some cases, the measures have been modified after countries discussed them in the SPS
Committee and through other channels.
the most important achievements is the way governments are keeping each other better
informed about the application of sanitary and phytosanitary measures, the report said.
reports assessment of improved transparency is based on work that is an unglamorous,
nuts-and-bolts activity in many WTO committees notification and review. In the SPS
Committee, members have to inform each other about new measures related to food safety
that they have introduced or are proposing to introduce.
helps countries be informed about new regulations that could affect their exports. They
have an opportunity to discuss the measures.
report observed that WTO member governments were increasingly "and in a more
comprehensive manner" fulfilling their obligations to notify fellow-members. This, it
said, "had significantly improved transparency in the application of sanitary or
also welcomed the progress governments had made in setting up specific points of contact
which fellow-members can use to enquire about SPS measures, and in clarifying which of
their authorities are responsible for submitting notifications to the WTO.
of 11 March 1999, over 1,100 notifications had been submitted by 59 members; 91 members
had established National Notification Authorities; and 100 members had established
National Enquiry Points to respond to requests for information," the report said.
increased transparency and other opportunities for discussing SPS measures has helped
countries avoid trade conflict in this area, the committee said. It "welcomed the
fact that a substantial number of SPS-related trade matters had been resolved following
their discussion at formal meetings of the committee or bilaterally".
the committee recognized there is room for improvement in transparency. It agreed on a new
format for increasing the relevant information supplied in notifications, and it urged
member governments to use the Internet to publish their regulations and improve
of the concerns raised came, in particular, from developing countries. They said they lack
the money and the people to deal with the complex and scientific SPS issues such as
adopting international standards. They also have difficulties in participating in the
development of these standards.
the SPS Agreement says developing countries are to be given more time to adjust so that
they can continue to export, the committee said it had no information how this provision
was being implemented.
committee also looked at some highly technical but important issues such as equivalence
(the possibility of accepting another countrys different measures as equivalent to
ones own) and risk assessment. It said that although considerable progress has been
achieved, further work may be needed.
of a review
review was conducted under Article 12.7 of the SPS Agreement which says a review has to
take place three years after the agreement came into force 1 January 1995
and after that when necessary. The report approved today is a snapshot of discussions in
the committee during the review.
12.7 says the committee can recommend changes to the agreement, but no such recommendation
was made in this report.
the WTO website: