Issues covered by the WTO’s committees and agreements

Update Phase 2: consumer information and labelling

Consumer information and labelling

See also Phase 1 (non-trade concerns).

Advocates argue that voluntary or mandatory labelling would be a way to deal with some non-trade concerns — such as animal welfare or information on genetically modified organisms — without distorting trade. It could help consumers make their choices on such things as animal welfare and sustainable production of plants, and by giving consumers confidence in labelled products it would also improve market access, they say.

Some advocates say they are pursuing this subject in the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee. They link progress in the TBT Committee with progress in the agriculture negotiations, a point several other members object to.

A number of other countries say this is not a subject for the agriculture negotiations, but one for the TBT Committee, and in the case of food safety, other bodies such as the WTO SPS Committee and the food labelling committee of Codex Alimentarius. Several also object to mandatory labelling.

Specifically on animal welfare, one proposal envisages dealing with this non-trade concern through a combination of labelling and Green Box domestic support criteria — the latter to compensate for effects on costs or production as a result of complying with animal welfare standards. Some countries countered that animal welfare is mainly a concern in wealthy nations and better welfare can sometimes be achieved without subsidies.

Papers or “non-papers” from: the EU, Switzerland.

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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.