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Topics handled by WTO committees and agreements
Issues covered by the WTO’s committees and agreements


The Key Provisions of the Agreement

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2.9 Equivalence — When different measures achieve the same level of health protection

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Article 4 of the SPS Agreement recognizes that more than one SPS measure may be equally effective in satisfying a country’s appropriate level of protection. Therefore, importing Members are obligated to accept as equivalent the SPS measures of an exporting Member (even if the measures are different from the importer’s) if the exporter objectively demonstrates that its measures achieve the importer’s appropriate level of protection. That is, the exporting Member must prove its case to the importing Member. In order to facilitate the evaluation of equivalence, exporting Members are obligated to grant reasonable access to the importer for inspection, testing, and other relevant procedures.

Most determinations of equivalence occur on a bilateral basis. However, the SPS Agreement encourages Members to conduct consultations with the aim of achieving multilateral equivalence agreements as well. The three sister organizations are working on guidelines to help Members negotiate equivalence agreements. Click here for an example of an equivalence agreement reached between New Zealand and the EC.

In May 2000, the SPS Committee decided that it would focus its discussion on the SPS Agreement and Developing Countries on one or two topics at a time. Equivalence was identified as one of those subjects. In parallel, the General Council, in the framework of its discussions on implementation problems related to the Uruguay Round Agreements also addressed the question of equivalence in the context of the SPS Agreement. The General Council requested the SPS Committee “to examine the concerns of developing countries regarding the equivalence of SPS measures and to come up with concrete options as to how to deal with them”.

In October 2001, the SPS Committee adopted the Decision on the Implementation of Article 4 of the SPS Agreement (G/SPS/19). This Decision provides guidance for governments negotiating the recognition of equivalent measures or products, for example regarding information exchange. The Doha Ministerial Conference in 2001 took note of this decision, and requested the SPS Committee to continue working on the issue. In March 2002, the SPS Committee adopted a work programme for this purpose (G/SPS/20).

Example — Dairy Products and Foot and Mouth Disease

In 1994, the Scientific Veterinary Committee (Animal Health) of the European Commission (EC) published a document considering the heat treatment of milk originating from foot and mouth disease (FMD) affected areas. The publication recommended specific heat treatments that could be applied to potentially infected milk to destroy the FMD virus.

The recommendations were subsequently incorporated into EC legislation. The EC accepted imports of dairy products from countries that had experienced outbreaks of FMD, provided the milk had been subjected to one of the specified heat treatments.

New Zealand operated a policy of only accepting dairy products from countries that had been free from FMD for at least 12 months.

During negotiations on a New Zealand/EC veterinary agreement in 1996, it was agreed that New Zealand would undertake a risk analysis of dairy products and that the EC would provide information to support their position on accepting dairy products from countries with FMD. New Zealand completed the risk analysis in early 1998 and adopted a similar position to the EC. As a result, New Zealand was able to recognise the relevant EC legislation as being equivalent to New Zealand standards.

Interestingly, the OIE also considered the same information and subsequently adopted the heat treatments recommended by the EC as part of the OIE International Animal Health Code.



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