Issues covered by the WTO’s committees and agreements

Update Phase 2: Food safety

Food safety (see also SPS materials)

One proposal: this needs to be tackled as part of liberalization talks in order to avoid critics who accuse the WTO of requiring governments to force their consumers to accept unsafe food. The proposal is for a written “Understanding” agreed among WTO members. It would do no more than endorse dispute panel and Appellate Body interpretations of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) provisions on precaution. (Some other members question whether this is appropriate as part of the agriculture negotiations rather than under SPS).

Another proposal: Developments in food safety issues since the end of the Uruguay Round negotiations mean the current talks need to deal with food safety. Examples include: new consumer concerns about genetically modified organisms; recent disease outbreaks such as BSE; and toxic substances such as dioxin. These are being examined in other organizations such as the OECD and Codex, and the WTO should coordinate with these other efforts, according to this view.

The discussion: This was the first time this topic has been discussed in the negotiations. All agree that consumers must be protected. All also agree on the need to avoid protectionism in disguise. The discussion is about whether the SPS Agreement (specially Article 5.7) is clear enough to maintain that balance appropriately. Some countries support clarifying it through an understanding that would also send the right signals to consumers. Others say this should be discussed in the SPS and Technical Barriers to Trade committees, and not in the agriculture negotiations.

Papers or “non-papers” from: The EU, and Japan.

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The second phase consists of detailed discussions on the many issues raised in the first phase, organized topic by topic. The meetings are largely “informal”, meaning that there is no official record except for chairperson’s summaries presented at the formal meetings. Papers presented so far have not been official WTO documents. Despite the increased complexity, developing countries continue to participate actively.