The "SPS" Committee oversees the implementation of the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the "SPS Agreement"). This Agreement sets out the basic rights and obligations of Members in taking measures to ensure food safety and animal health protection (sanitary measures) or plant protection (phytosanitary measures), when such measures have an effect on international trade. Members must ensure that their measures are based on scientific grounds, either through undertaking an evaluation of the risks involved or, preferably, by using internationally-developed sanitary and phytosanitary standards.

    Members are required to give advance notice of proposed new sanitary and phytosanitary regulations, and to provide an opportunity for other trading partners to comment on these proposed regulations before they are implemented. The SPS Committee has developed procedures to ensure the full implementation of these requirements and has agreed on the formats to be used for both advance notifications and notification of emergency actions. Members may raise questions and concerns regarding specific notifications at any of the SPS Committee meetings. They may also discuss any issues related to sanitary or phytosanitary measures and the implementation of the SPS Agreement.

    A number of sanitary and phytosanitary measures have been the subject of formal requests for consultations under the auspices of the WTO dispute settlement system. These have included such diverse issues as shelf-life requirements on food products; inspection and control procedures; restrictions on treatment of bottled water; restrictions due to diseases of fish; and the use of growth-promoting veterinary drugs in meat production. Some of these matters have been settled through bilateral consultations whereas others are still pending. The latter issue has been referred to two dispute settlement panels.

    The SPS Committee is developing a procedure to monitor Member's use of international sanitary and phytosanitary standards and has been considering some proposals in this regard. The Committee has also begun work on the development of guidelines to facilitate government's implementation of obligations related to decisions taken on what constitutes an appropriate level of health protection.

    In addition to these tasks, the SPS Committee recommends in its report that Ministers endorse further elements of a work programme, including:

    "reviewing the efficacy of the Agreement's notification process; improving transparency in other areas, including through the exchange of information on Members' administrative structures and procedures related to the establishment of SPS measures; facilitating consultations leading to the resolution of current trade problems; coordinating and improving the quality and efficiency of international technical assistance; and promoting the recognition of equivalent SPS measures consistent with the provisions of the Agreement."

    Finally, the SPS Committee notes that it will undertake appropriate work for a review of the operation and implementation of the SPS Agreement which will have to be carried out in 1998.