One of the key goals of the SPS Agreement is to increase the transparency of sanitary and phytosanitary measures. Governments are required to notify other countries of any new or changed SPS measure which affects trade. They also have to set up offices (called “Enquiry Points”) to respond to requests for more information on new or existing measures. Such increased transparency protects the interests of consumers, as well as trading partners, from hidden protectionism through unnecessary technical requirements.
The SPS Committee is a forum where WTO Members exchange information on all aspects related to the implementation of the SPS Agreement. It reviews compliance with the agreement, discusses specific trade concerns, and all matters related to notification and transparency in general.
The transparency obligations of the Agreement are contained in Article 5.8, Article 7 and Annex B. In addition, the Committee has elaborated recommended procedures for implementing the transparency obligations of the SPS Agreement (G/SPS/7/Rev.2). These clarify some of the language used in Annex B, and give guidance on how to notify (including how to fill in the notification formats), how to handle comments on notifications, and how to provide documents related to a notification. It also gives some guidance on the operation of National Notification Authorities and Enquiry Points, and on publication of regulations.
To help Members, in particular the developing and least-developed countries, to implement the transparency obligations, the Secretariat has put together a handbook titled: “How to Apply the Transparency Provisions of the SPS Agreement”. It includes detailed descriptions of how to set up and operate Enquiry Points and National Notification Authorities, how to notify, models for letters of response, etc.
The following sections give a brief overview of the obligations contained in the Agreement, and the handbook gives more detailed hands-on instructions and explanations on how to apply them.